Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House takes note of the Report on "Developments in the European Communities April-October 1975" (Command Paper No. 6349).
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Chipping Barnet)
This is one of the two days given every year to discussing developments in the European Communities. Basically, we are discussing the EEC—almost the whole of the White Paper is concerned with that. Rather less has taken place in the other Communities, but we must not ignore their importance.
Developments within the Communities in the period under review have been particularly important. The six-month period covers the time of the referendum and the basic decision of this country, to which the great majority of hon. Members on both sides subscribed, that we should remain within the Community. This is a decision which, once having been taken by a referendum, can admit to no going back. Although we took this decision only a short time ago, we should not forget all the consequences for our policy in Europe and in this House which must inevitably follow from a decision of that magnitude.
This debate takes place against a background of an interesing conference in Rome in the last two days. It is right to refer to it because it is relevant to the present state of the Community and our membership and also relevant as the culmination of much that took place in the six months under review in the White Paper. We are glad that a compromise was reached in Rome which will enable the important international conference on energy and other matters to proceed. We urged the Government, and the Foreign Secretary in particular, on more than one occasion that there was an absolute need 1693 to reach some sort of compromise, though at the time the right hon. Gentleman did not seem particularly willing to do so.
While welcoming the compromise agreement, we are entitled to ask what were the terms and what has been the cost in the long-term relationship between ourselves and our fellow members of the Community. Clarification is needed because the Press accounts of what was agreed are confusing and there are conflicting interpretations. The Foreign Secretary is quoted as saying that the document will contain a lot of cotton wool. We are used to the Foreign Secretary being frank in what he says about foreign affairs, but this is not a very good description of the basic negotiating position of the Community in a matter of this importance.
Hardly ever has a Minister emerged from an international conference with so much egg on his face as did the Foreign Secretary in Rome. He had said that no possible formula could be produced which would permit Great Britain to be represented by the Community at the forthcoming conference, yet that is precisely what has happened. He must accept a certain share of the blame if, having started off looking to be a modern Palmerston, he finishes up like the grand old Duke of York. It was clear that he would have to climb down. We warned him that he would have to climb down, and it is a good thing that he has done so. I see that the Prime Minister has been trying to save the Foreign Secretary's face. That is a very laudable thing to do.
Of the faces visible on the Government Front Bench, which is not as crowded as usual, the Foreign Secretary's is one of the least unacceptable. However, the extent to which the Prime Minister has gone in this attempt is extraordinary even for him. To try to claim that on this occasion Britain has achieved all its objectives is more ineffable than usual. The Prime Minister is reported as sayingIf you shoot for the moon you might hit the top of Snowdon".I take it that he means the mountain.
I am beginning to understand how the Prime Minister can claim to have achieved a victory when everyone else can see that he has suffered a failure. 1694 I have checked the figures and I see that the distance from the earth to the moon is 240,000 miles. The height of Snowdon is 3,560 feet. If that is the ratio of success that the Prime Minister normally expects in his endeavours, it is not surprising if his assessment of his achievements differs somewhat from the assessment by most of us.
We are entitled to ask what was achieved at this conference, because it was of enormous importance. We are not to have a special seat separate from the Community, and I do not think anyone seriously thought we ever would. What are we to have instead? Here I must rely on the Press, because we have had no official statement from the Prime Minister. I rely on The Guardian, which is very distinguished in international affairs and which is not totally committed to the Conservative Party.
I gather that the president of the meeting will be empowered to invite other countries to present their additional comments in the light of their experience in accordance with the agreed mandate. What does that mean? If the comments are to be made in accordance with the agreed mandate, everyone can do the same. If we are to say something different from the other members of the Community, have they agreed that we should do so? If we are going to say the same as the other members of the Community, what is the point of the whole exercise? This seems to be an extraordinary situation.
What has happened over the decision on a floor price for oil? We are told that there has been agreement, reluctantly on the part of the West German Chancellor, that there should be a floor price for oil. Has the price been agreed? Is it, as the Press says, 7 a barrel? What on earth is the use of a guaranteed $7 a barrel if the current world price is already $11 or $12? If no price has been fixed, what is the purpose of the floor? If the floor price were fixed at $1, it would be a floor but a pretty useless one. If the Government claim that these things cannot be determined in detail in advance, which is a fair point, is there any agreement on the principles upon which this price will be determined? So far as I can see from the information available, there is no agreement on those principles. 1695 If that is so, what conceivable use could any such agreement be to this country?
We have heard a certain amount recently about import controls. There seems to be considerable interest in them both by Labour Back Benchers and by the European Community. The White Paper says that the Community acts as a single unit in the GATT, but if we are to break the rules of the GATT and introduce import controls, if we are to ask for derogations from the international rules of the GATT, will the Community do that for us? If we introduce import controls, will they bear upon the world at large, including our Community partners, or will they merely be applied to other countries outside the Community? These are matters of fundamental importance.
We were told that these issues would be discussed at Rome, and presumably there was some talk about them. The House should know at this stage what conclusions were reached on this point. The accounts which appear in the most responsible newspapers are extremely vague.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman could accept that the British Government are entitled to take certain action on an important topic like import controls, making their announcement on the principle when they announce their decisions on the policy. Not everything has to appear first in The Guardian.
§ Mr. Maudling
It depends whether by taking that action the British Government are breaking solemn treaties. The extent to which the Government are entitled to break treaties is quite another matter. In the course of the discussions in Rome, were import controls considered in relation to the rules of the Community and to the wider set of rules for the GATT?
§ Mr. Maudling
The Government do not help themselves in these matters.
I think that there is recognition in this House that we are committed in principle to direct elections to the European Parliament—
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
Will the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to say exactly where we are committed to direct elections? A new myth has grown up that we are committed to direct elections. I put this suggestion rather on a par with some of the remarks by the right hon. Gentleman before the referendum which, as in the case of the energy question, seem to have been changed rather rapidly after the event. Exactly where in the Treaty of Rome does it say that we are wholly committed to direct elections?
§ Mr. Maudling
I cannot quote the precise article in the Treaty, but I think that the hon. Lady will be able to get that information from her own Front Bench.
§ Mr. Maudling
In that case we shall be interested to hear from the Minister of State where the Government stand on this issue. Last week I asked whether it was the Government's desire that direct elections should come as soon as possible or as late as possible. The Minister of State said "As soon as sensible". Whatever he means by that, he regards this country as committed by the Treaty of Rome to the principle of direct elections to the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Maudling
They cannot come before sensible arrangements have been made. There is a vast range of problems in the drawing of constituencies and all the other details of elections. This is an important issue and we cannot resile from the principle of ultimate direct elections to a European Parliament without causing a breach of faith, which would be wrong.
§ Mr. Spearing
The right hon. Gentleman was unable to quote the article he had in mind. Article 138 puts the onus of responsibility upon the Assembly to make proposals and on the Council to make recommendations to member States. Since under Article 109 the recommendation would not be binding, that means that this country is not bound. I have a letter from the Foreign Secretary which agrees that the recommendation of the Council would have no binding force 1697 and that we would have to pass an Act of Parliament to give effect to it in any case.
§ Mr. Maudling
I respect the views of Ministers and, therefore, I ask the Minister of State whether he believes that the Government are bound by accepting the obligations of the principle of direct elections at the appropriate time by appropriate methods.
There was a small point which arose in Rome concerning passports, and I did not understand it. It was suggested in the Press that some new European passport is to take the place of the British passport. I would regret that very much. I still cling, old-fashioned as I am, to the British passport and to the words which refer to Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State requesting and requiring, in the name of the Queen, that people should give us facilities. I hope that that will not be abandoned. If it is, it will be one of those examples of people trying to substitute for the substance of European unity a form of unity which pleases and helps no one. Perhaps on this point the Minister of State can enlighten us as to what exactly has been agreed, because at present it is hard to follow precisely what has been taking place.
I turn to the general development of the European Community. It must be clear that the reconciliation of national interests and Community interests is bound to take a long time and create very many difficulties. The confirmation of our membership only a few months ago was bound to add to the problems of this reconciliation—obviously. Also, the world recession, the increase in oil prices and all the economic tensions arising from the developments are bound to make a bad context for this problem of reconciliation. However, we must keep an eye on the long-term goal.
It is important to avoid harmonisation for harmonisation's sake. There is a real danger that the Brussels bureaucracy, which is perfectly properly and rightly concerned with harmonisation, will neglect what national Parliaments can see—the practical difficulties of putting into effect some of the promises No doubt harmonisation is desirable in principle, but it is obligatory only if it is required for the purposes of the Treaty of Rome. Any harmonisation efforts beyond that, al- 1698 though perhaps laudable, are certainly not obligatory on this country.
There are two main points I want to make. I deal first with the relationship of the national State and the Community, Of course there was cession of sovereignty when we went into the Community. All international agreements involve some cession, although there was greater scope and far more flexibility in the Treaty of Rome than in any other agreement. However, nations will remain nations for the foreseeable future and will be determined to maintain their own national interests.
In 1957 we tried to negotiate a free trade area. I can remember talking to Professor Erhard, the then Economic Minister of the German Federal Republic, and asking how he had managed to sign a treaty which would mean that just before an election in Germany the Community might pass a new regulation which would grievously damage the interests of the wine-growers of the Rhine and the Moselle. He replied "The Community won't push Germany around like that". It is evident that a large country cannot be pushed around. The Community is not a single State but a partnership in which the individual must respect the interests of the whole and the partnership as a whole must respect the interests of the individual.
Against that background, the sort of arguments that have taken place in the past few weeks should be worked out not by confrontation or antagonism but by seeking a solution in a sensible and rational way to reconcile the national interests—which cannot be overridden—of great countries with the economic and overriding interests of the Community.
Harmonisation is right in principle but its purposes were, first, the free flow of goods and services and, secondly, the establishment of fair competition and widespread choice in the interests of the consumer. Why otherwise should we harmonise? Hegel said that the unity of the whole depended on the diversification of the parts. Freedom of choice and wider choice should be the Community's objectives—not a restriction of choice.
I cannot help believing sometimes that a little damage has been done in the public eye to the whole purpose of the Community by efforts to pass regulations about the contents of a jar of pickled 1699 onions, the type of bread we eat and so on—all the things that do not happen but which are talked about too much and, which, because they are talked about, give the public at large an impression that the Community gives attention to minor considerations when the major considerations, which are fundamental, are not given adequate thought.
The record of recent months as set out in the White Paper is one of useful, if not spectacular, work, but we cannot expect spectacular work all the time. Valuable and useful progress has been made in agriculture, trade and other matters. There are two particular problems about which the British Government have been at odds with their Community partners. The first concerns the transport regulations dealing with drivers' hours and tachographs. The second is the question of the pollution of waters. I sympathise with the Government's point of view. I am not yet convinced that total harmonisation in the way proposed is absolutely necessary for the purposes of the Treaty, and unless it is necessary I do not understand why it should be proposed or carried.
The transport arrangements constitute a difficult problem but could be worked out given enough time. On the question of the pollution of waters by the discharge of effluent, I do not understand why the same regulations that govern tidal waters—estuarial waters—should also govern internal rivers. If the Government oppose a system of total harmonisation, there is considerable substance in their argument.
We welcome the proposals to control the Community's expenditure. This is a sphere in which this Parliament, with its traditions of parliamentary government and control over expenditure—which has been somewhat eroded over the past 18 months—can make a useful contribution to a problem which has not yet been fully or adequately tackled by the institutions of the Community. I hope that the Minister will enlighten us a little further on the basic problem of allocating the Community's expenditure, because I find it difficult to understand the principle on which expenditure has been allocated for social and regional purposes, overseas aid and agricultural support. In view of the rather delayed, 1700 although expected, German reaction, it is difficult to understand our position in relation to the heavy burden of expenditure. I hope that the Minister will give a clear picture of how priorities operate in this area and show the pluses and minuses for the United Kingdom's economy.
The basic economic problems facing the Community are clearly those of foreign trade and payments and of further co-ordination in the economic and monetary sectors. This is becoming more difficult the more the rate of inflation varies as between Community members and the more the economic prospects as between Community members tend to diverge. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what progress is being made on the concept of economic and monetary union, how the Tindemans Report stands and what the Government believe is likely to emerge from it, because, although economic and monetary union sound splendid objectives, it is often difficult to envisage how, in practice, they can work out in the unsatisfactory world in which we have to operate.
In some ways the most encouraging developments recently have been in the political sphere. I have already spoken of direct elections and I do not propose to do so again. In foreign affairs there has been a genuine and useful attempt to concert the foreign policies of the member States. It is perhaps a lesson in pragmatism if we make more progress in an area where there is a concerting of policies than in one where there is harmonisation of policies—in other words, an area in which we work together because we want to do so rather than because we have to do so.
Certainly the reaction of the Community, in which the British Government played a great part, in its decision on Portugal and on giving aid to Portugal is of considerable help and is important for the position of democracy in the southern flank of Europe.
I did not agree with the decision to suspend the negotiations with Spain about a trade agreement.. I hope that, now there has been a change in the régime in Spain, it will be recognised that it is important to ensure Spanish membership of the European Community on a proper and agreed basis at a time and a pace that will be suitable to all concerned. I hope 1701 that the Community members and the British Government in particular will give much effort and thought to ensuring how that can be achieved. It would add a great deal towards the completeness of our European community of nations if Spain were ultimately to be there with us.
The same applies to Greece. We on this side welcome the possibility of the accession of Greece to full membership of the European Community, and Greece, too, is a country without which Europe cannot really in any historic terms be complete.
I gather that some efforts are being made, and there is some co-ordination of European points of view taking place, in an effort to make a contribution to the solution of the problem in Cyprus. In the Middle East also there is a considerable case for more European activity as such in an effort to seek a solution to the damaging, dangerous and, indeed, escalating problem which we now see there.
Probably most important of all is the reaction of the European Community to the Helsinki agreement. The White Paper tells us:The Nine Member Governments intend to continue to co-ordinate their approach to the implementation and monitoring of the decisions of the Helsinki Conference…".This is of fundamental importance. Much has been said about Helsinki, both before and afterwards. How should one take it? How serious is it? The Chinese seem to think that it is a major threat to world peace. I do not agree. I believe that it could be a great boon to mankind in the long run so long as we recognise, as I believe the Minister does, that nothing that happened at Helsinki, and nothing signed there, justifies any letting down of the guard of the Western nations. If we maintain our caution, if we maintain our guard, if we ensure that progress takes place along the lines envisaged in principle at the Helsinki Conference, we may be able to make a big contribution towards the future peace and happiness of mankind. There is no field in which the European Community can make a greater contribution than that.
The Community is not a military body, of course, but there is no effective division between military partnership and political partnership. The cohesion of the Western world, the cohesion of 1702 Europe and the cohesion of Europe with the United States and North America are of fundamental importance still t[...] the prospect of detente being successful. We must, however—I recognise that the White Paper makes a contribution in this direction—press on with the ideal of greater European unity, avoiding humbug, avoiding excessive bureaucracy, avoiding excessive euphoria, but thinking all the time that the job is well worth doing.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Roy Hattersley)
This debate is intended to enable the House of Commons to express its opinions on events which took place within the EEC between April and October 1975 and, if the House chooses, to raise criticisms of the way the Community has behaved. It is part of the procedure recommended by the Foster Committee to provide the House with an opportunity to examine the business of the EEC and the position taken up by British Ministers during the discussion of that business.
Inevitably, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maud ling) referred to yesterday's European Council meeting. That was plainly the part of his speech which he most enjoyed making, and I do not begrudge him that. I understand that the Prime Minister hopes to report to the House tomorrow on the outcome of that meeting, and it is clearly much better for questions about the Heads of Government meeting to be left until then and for comments on that meeting to follow the Prime Minister's statement. However, I can, I am sure, offer the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister's gratitude for the notice he has given him of the questions which he intends to raise.
I shall confine myself to the motion and the White Paper to which it specifically refers. Indeed, to do otherwise would be to deny the object of today's debate. The Foster Committee believed that regular opportunities had to be provided for the discussion of routine Community business. The more spectacular occasions can be discussed at other times and in other ways. My job is simply to refer briefly to some of the major themes in recent business of the Community and to listen to the judgment of the House upon them.
1703 I cannot resist reminding the right hon. Gentleman that the White Paper deals specifically with the period April to October, and the motion which I understood him to be moving refers specifically to that period, though he felt it necessary in the first part of his speech—it brings a smile to his lips whenever I mention it—to deal exclusively with the events of 1st and 2nd December. He may wish to treat his own motion in that cavalier fashion. I treat it with a great deal more respect, and I shall actually deal with what his motion specifies.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Then, of course, I treat it with even more respect than I was working up within myself, and I reprove the right hon. Gentleman for treating it in such a cavalier fashion.
This is the first of the six-monthly debates to be held since the British people decided that our destiny lay within Europe. The 5th June is now almost history, and I believe it best to leave it as such. Today I seek to draw no conclusions from the referendum campaign or its results, save to mention the simple fact that we are now irrevocably in membership of the Common Market—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."]—a point which the right hon. Gentleman himself made. Apart from the expressions of view of one or two wholly unrepresentative groups, Common Market membership is not now, I believe, an issue in British politics, and I take the view that debates such as this can be successfully conducted only against the background of that acceptance—the background of making the EEC work for Britain and making it work for our eight friends and partners with whom we have a mutual vested interest in building a successful Community.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Everybody knows the size of our oil deficit and knows of the difficulties which that causes the nation and our Government, but very few know the size of our deficit in trade with the EEC. Would it not be as well if Ministers sometimes gave the British people the information which would enable them to see that the decision 1704 they made on 5th June was not as favourable to them as they were led to believe it would be?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I have already said that I do not wish to fight battles which are over and lost or won. Had I not said that, I should have reminded my right hon. Friend that one of the reasons for his confusion about the deficit with the EEC is that so much nonsense was talked about it during the referendum campaign. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary specified with considerable precision the extent of that deficit and the trade benefits we enjoyed through membership of the Community, and I am prepared to rely on those figures, published for the record and now increasingly understood throughout the country.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
With respect, I asked the Library to prepare the figures for me a week ago. I have those figures relating to our trade balance. If my right hon. Friend says that our deficit with the Common Market up to the end of September was not £1,900 million—if he says that that is not the position—I shall accept it, but he will be denying figures issued on behalf of the Government.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I say in response to that—and I shall try not to say it any more—that we are regrettably in deficit with a number of trading organisations, and the point I make, which the Foreign Secretary demonstrated in the House in a recent debate, is that were we not in membership of the EEC our overall deficit would be a great deal larger than it is at the present unhappy moment.
I return to the objective of building a successful Community, an objective which, I believe, needs in some ways to be defined. In company with the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, I am not attracted by expanding Community activity simply for the sake of doing so. Nor do I wish to see the Community forge common policies where there is no practical advantage in co-ordination or, as he described it, harmonisation. The Community is bound together by needs which genuinely coincide for all its members. Each of us has the same or similar vested interests in the solution of real and immediate problems. There is much that we 1705 can do together which is practical, possible, necessary and beneficial. The Community should concentrate on those real and practical issues rather than spend its time and energy attempting "to build Europe", to use a fashionable phrase, an attempt which I believe the right hon. Gentleman regards as being completely artificial.
I give the House some examples of the real and immediate problems to which I refer. They are to be found in the White Paper which the Prime Minister's motion requires us to discuss. There is a need for more democracy within the Community and for the institutions of the Community to be made more accountable to the people whom they serve. There is a need for the Community to take up a coordinated and enlightened position towards the economic relationship of the developed and developing world.
There is a need for increased financial control of the Community budget and for more emphasis within the common agricultural policy, which accounts for over 70 per cent. of total Community spending, on the avoidance of surplus and waste, and the encouragement of the most economic farms. Perhaps most important of all, there is a need for greater convergence in the economies of the member nations.
Greater efforts should be made to reduce disparties between the strongest and weakest Community currencies. There should be a greater determination to reduce the gap between the richest and poorest regions within the EEC. Until the Community enjoys a more equal level of economic prosperity, the prospects of moving towards genuine integration, either economic or political, remain remote.
Section XI of the White Paper deals, among other things, with democracy within the Community. A decision was taken on that subject in Rome yesterday. As I have said, the Prime Minister will report upon it tomorrow. I emphasise today that the position that the Government have taken up in the Community is the position that is described in the White Paper, the position that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have already described, at least in part, to the House. In the Government's view, Article 138(3) commits Great Britain, as other member nations, to hold direct 1706 elections sooner or later. It does not say that we can do so without proper process in our national Parliament. It does not say that it is an obligation that we can discharge without carrying the House with us and passing a Bill. However, by our standards and judgment, it is a commitment in principle. We want to achieve the objective of the article at the first practical opportunity.
Direct elections to the European Assembly represent a major constitutional innovation for this country and a subject of major, and, I suspect, prolonged debate in the House. The Government must decide a number of specific issues regarding the form and nature of the elections. We must consult the parties, and we must offer our recommendations to the House. I believe that the House will, properly be, offended if we commit ourselves to preparation, consultation and recommendation and to obtaining the approval of Parliament by a specified predetermined date.
I would not myself relish announcing in the House not only that a White Paper and Bill were in prospect but that we had told our Community partners the date by which we would have the Bill passed into law. If everything can be done properly and in time for an election in 1978, we can clearly march in time as well as in step with our Community partners. If that cannot take place, I can only repeat the view that I expressed during Question Time last week—namely, that we must do things in proper order even if we do them a little later.
I hope that our position on direct elections will be taken by our partners as proof that we do not make promises to them that we cannot fulfil. I hope that it will be taken as an indication of the importance that we attach to the Assembly and its essential status. Of course, in the foreseeable future its powers are unlikely to be radically increased. For years ahead the Community will remain accountable to national Parliaments as it is now through the Council of Ministers. But no one can deny the importance, both practical and symbolic, of direct elections.
Six Community members have been thinking about implementing Article 138 for 17 years. If it takes us six or seven 1707 years of membership to implement it successfully, in my view we shall not have done badly.
§ Mr. Spearing
My right hon. Friend will know that many supporters of the Government would not share his interpretation of Article 138, but if the Government are now saying that there is an obligation to have direct elections, will he say why that was not spelled out in paragraph 131 of Command 6003, which was the renegotiation White Paper. The paragraph reads:If British membership is confirmed, any scheme for direct elections to the European Assembly would require an Act of Parliament.If the Government believed that there was such an obligation, why did they not say so at the time of the referendum?
§ Mr. Hattersley
That is what I said at the time of the referendum, but if it was omitted from the White Paper I suppose that we anticipated greater knowledge amongst our opponents than has turned out to be the case. The referendum campaign allowed my right hon. and hon. Friends and others who took a position different from the one that I then occupied to argue their case. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), like me, had an opportunity during the campaign to draw the attention of the citizens of Great Britain to Article 138 and to what he thought it meant. I now tell him what I believe it to mean. If he thinks that I am wrong, we must differ.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that he and the Government are committed to Article 138. I believe that that statement was based on the advice of Foreign Office lawyers. Will the right hon. Gentleman now tell the House how the Government have arrived at that commitment? Will he go through the Treaty of Rome and show us where the commitment is to be found? He has not done that, and that is exactly what we are questioning.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I referred to Article 138(3) of the Treaty, which requires the Assembly to draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage. I suppose that it is possible to argue that the Treaty intended the Assembly to draw up proposals and then to tear them up and 1708 throw them away, but that does not seem to be a practical or realistic interpretation of the Treaty.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am conscious that the next paragraph talks about the appropriate provisions to be recommended to member States. That is clearly the obligation in principle. That is the obligation which we intend to discharge.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North) rose—
§ Mr. Hattersley
No, I have already taken a long time. I think it best if I continue with my speech.
During the period covered by the White Paper the Parliamentary Labour Party has taken up its seats in the Assembly, to which direct elections will one day be organised. The House is now fully represented and plays an increasingly important part in Luxembourg and Strasbourg. The Government believe that the House will want to hear comments from the new delegation about its work in Europe and on the view that it has of the EEC, based on its experience at the Assembly. It is our hope that towards the end of the debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), who leads the Parliamentary Labour Party delegation, will catch the eye of the Chair. So that he can do his subject justice, we gladly offer my right hon. Friend the time that might on another occasion be taken by a Government spokesman. It seems essential that we hear his judgment—a better judgment there could not be—on how the Strasbourg Parliament is operating and how the European Assembly works.
One of the powers of the Assembly in which my right hon. Friend plays such a distinguished part is the right to comment on and perhaps to increase the Community budget. Paragraphs 40 and 41 of the White Paper set out details of the budget that the Assembly received from the Council. That is the 1976 draft budget that has now been considered by the Assembly and sent back to the Council for its further examination. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is now discussing the Assembly's proposals at the Budget Council in Brussels. 1709 The document that the Council is considering includes modifications and amendments proposed by the Assembly which, if accepted, would add another £180 million to the overall draft budget.
It would be wrong for me to prejudge the outcome of that Council's deliberations, but in the present climate of financial stringency I believe that it is unlikely to accept all the increases which the Assembly has proposed. However, I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased to learn that we expect at least some of the cuts made on 22nd and 29th September in the provision for the Social Fund, an important fund to the United Kingdom, to be restored as a result of what the Assembly suggested. We hope that the Council will accept those suggestions.
I have dealt with matters concerning the internal organisation of the Community during the six months under review. Inevitably, during the months from April to October the Community continued to examine its institutions and internal organisation. Central to that examination has been the stocktaking of the common agricultural policy. The Labour Government have always held the view that the CAP was a policy for consumers as well as for producers, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made that clear during his meetings with other Agriculture Ministers. We have continued our pressure to create an agricultural system which is more geared to the needs of the most efficient farms and which avoids the creation of unnecessary surpluses and waste. We look forward to the report of the Agricultural Council on this subject being taken into account by the Commission in next year's annual price review. Our policy will be to advance at every Council meeting where it is both possible and appropriate specific changes that contribute towards the achievement of a generally more acceptable agricultural policy. The CAP cannot, and never could have been, changed overnight, but we shall continue to work for its further improvement. This may well have to be gradual, but we intend that gradually improvement shall come about.
At the same time, within the Agricultural Council we shall be examining the future of the common fisheries policy.
1710 The Community now accepts that changes will be necessary if there is to be an extension of international fishing limits. We in Great Britain could be faced with particular problems if, at a time when some countries are extending their fishing limits as a result of decisions taken at the Law of the Sea Conference, we are required to apply the present common fisheries policy, which would open the waters around Great Britain to the trawlers of other Community countries. Clearly, substantial changes have to be made, and it is the Government's intention to work for them and for their successful acceptance.
All these matters—the European Assembly and its elections, the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy—are essentially matters concerned with the organisation of the Community. But the months between April and October have not been a period in which the Community has been obsessively concerned with its organisation to the exclusion of matters involving the world outside. The Community has continued to use its political co-operation machinery to obtain, wherever possible, a common Community view on relations with countries outside the EEC. It has continued to use that machinery to coordinate the foreign policies of individual members.
I was delighted that the right hon. Gentleman drew the House's attention to the success with which that policy has been applied in the Community's relations with Portugal. It has been the common wish of Community Foreign Ministers to encourage the attempts of the Portuguese to establish a genuine democracy in their country. We have made that clear both by the way in which we welcomed Major Antunes to the Council and by the assurance we gave him about the ready availability of a preferential Community loan. Indeed, the success of these attempts at co-ordination are a major feature of the Community's work during the period of the White Paper.
At the Seventh Special Session of the United Nations, Community Foreign Ministers, working in close co-operation, made a major contribution to the consensus resolution with which that meeting ended. The EEC was determined that the Seventh Special Session should be 1711 characterised not by conflict between the developed and the developing worlds but by co-operation in the pursuit of complementary goals. The position which the Community took up was to a very great degree influenced by the ideas put forward by my right hon. Friend at the Kingston meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. The support of that policy by Community Foreign Ministers was a major contribution to the satisfactory ending of the Seventh Special Session.
The Community's commitment to the developing world was demonstrated earlier in the year by the Lomé Convention. Its trade provisions came into effect in July, and its African, Caribbean and Pacific signatories now enjoy easier access to the European market. The Lomé Convention—referred to in the White Paper—is only a part of the Community's aid policy. In our view, the programme needs to be more balanced and, in particular, to pay more attention to the needs of the poorest developing countries. I have in mind especially India, Bangladesh and other countries in the Indian subcontinent. These already take a large share of the Community's considerable food aid programme, and we are supporting the Commission's proposals for a considerable increase in 1976. But these countries, which are not eligible for the Lomé Convention, get no continuing financial assistance from the Community. They did get much of the Community's contribution to the United Nations emergency measures, but that was a one-off operation.
Since the Development Council agreed in principle to financial and technical assistance to non-Associates last year, we have been pressing for implementation of a genuine, meaningful and realistic aid programme. To my regret, some member States have so far been unable to agree, but we shall keep on trying, we shall keep on pushing and we shall keep on describing the advantages of and necessity for such a policy. In response to what the right hon. Gentleman had to tell the House about the way in which the Foreign Secretary operates within the Community, that is exactly how the Community works and how the Community should work.
The Community works by discussion, by initial disagreement, by more discus- 1712 sion and by eventual mutual agreement on a satisfactory policy. That is exactly how the debate on the Paris energy conference was conducted, and that is exactly how it ended. It is clear to any objective observer—if not to those who did not want Britain to fight, those who wanted Britain to fight and one or two who wanted Britain to fight and then lose so as to make a debating point about it—that Britain's interests as an energy producer are fully safeguarded by the arrangements which were agreed yesterday and about which the Prime Minister hopes to answer a Question tomorrow.
Indeed, Britain's special position has been recognised by the arrangements which have been made for the 16th December conference. My right hon. Friend will be there, and I am sure that the Prime Minister will expand on that matter when he makes his statement tomorrow. He will do so against the general background of one of the significant areas the right hon. Gentleman raised; that is to say, the general development of the Community and the problem in the Community of reconciling national and Community interests and producing a consensus policy which meets all the wishes of all the member nations. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is no advantage, no virtue and no common sense in looking for co-operation in an artificial sense, and trying to harmonise for no greater reason than to be able to announce that harmonisation has been carried out.
That is not the Community that I see emerging. I see emerging a Community which is increasingly sensible, increasingly practical and increasingly devoted to the real issues of European co-operation. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman some examples of what I mean in terms of the real basis on which the Community operates.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the real purpose of the Community was to give a fair wind of competition and to provide a wider choice. That is not a bad description of a free trade area, but it is not an adequate description of the European Economic Community. The Community always aimed to go further and do more. May I say, in passing, that the regulations about which we are all tempted to make jokes, concerning the number of onions in a bottle, the sex 1713 of hops and rear-view mirrors on agricultural equipment, are part of the free trade aspects of the Community. They are attempts to remove artificial barriers to trade—other than tariff barriers—which are probably as much against the interests of competition as are regulations which are not common between one country and another.
Whether or not that argument is accepted by the House, the basic feature of the Community of which the right hon. Gentleman has to take account is its intention to do more than simply create the atmosphere of free trade. It is supposed to be—and he congratulated it on this account—involved in creating a common foreign policy for member States where a common foreign policy is necessary. It is supposed to be—and the House congratulated it on this—involved in ironing out disparities of wealth between one part of the Community and another by positive policies, the richest countries contributing towards the employment prospects in poorer regions. It is supposed in the common agricultural policy—
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
It is also concerned with the movement of people and the migration of people. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend intends to comment on the reference made by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) to the possibility of the admission to the EEC of Greece. If he does, he will have to think about the restriction of the admission into and employment in this country of Greek Cypriots. The Immigration Act 1971, which is still in operation, puts Common Market citizens who want to work in Great Britain in a more favourable position than new Commonwealth citizens. Are the Government applying their mind to these problems?
§ Mr. Hattersley
My hon. Friend has asked me about several problems but I will answer only two because time prevents my doing anything else. The Community as a whole would welcome the accession of Greece when that is possible, and in the interests of Greece to do so. I believe that the Community will not be complete until she is a member, but a number of technical discussions must be carried out in the interests of Greek agriculture and her economy before she 1714 is ready to sign the final act of membership.
We have all learnt the hard way of the difficulties involved in joining the Community first and worrying about the terms afterwards. The advice we are able to give to Greece from our particularly strong position after the renegotiation is that it is necessary to look at the small print and ensure that it says what she wants it to say. When the small print and terms are right for Greece, the Community will welcome her membership.
On the transfer of people within the Community, my hon. Friend is confusing two concepts. The first is the right to move under Article 108 of the Treaty of Rome, dealing with the free movement of labour to take jobs in the Community under certain conditions, and the other is the right of citizens to bring in families and dependants, which is traditionally associated with the Commonwealth. Many hon. Members for constituencies like mine would say "Long may that remain."
The right hon. Gentleman commented about the future building of the Community and our obligations to it. I hope that I speak not only as myself, a good member of the Community, but as a member of a Government who wants to support the ideals, aspirations and intentions of the Community. But very often when we are tackled about our behaviour in the Community, the arguments we may have with other member countries and the interchanges of debate held privately in the Council of Ministers and reported in The Guardian next day, we are accused of supporting British interests to the point where our good Community credentials are in doubt. I have never been prepared to accept that sort of criterion for what is good Community membership and what our obligations are towards our other partners.
There is, as the right hon. Gentleman says, a duty on each member nation to pursue the specialities of its own interest but there is a duty upon each member nation also to pursue those specialities in such a way that it accepts, anticipates and respects the interests of the eight other members. I believe that we have done both these things, and I hope that we shall go on doing them.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)
I take note of this White Paper with a feeling of despondency verging on despair. It will come as no surprise to the few hon. Members who are in the House today to know that I am a committed believer in the potential of the European Community to help find a solution to some of the greatest problems we face in this country and in the world at large.
This deadpan document is written more in the style of a particularly dull chairman's statement to the stockholders of a company than in the style of what perhaps would seem to meet an exaggerated requirement but which to me should be in the style of a "Pilgrim's Progress." It is deplorable that the record of six months should be so thin and so valueless.
I find it difficult to say some of these things just after the right hon. Gentleman has sat down, because I have a strong feeling that in many respects he and I share similar views on the future of the Community. The effect of the referendum, as it reacts upon this country, has also produced reaction amongst our partners in the Community. They assumed that from the time Britain joined it would be wholehearted in its determination to pursue dynamically and determinedly the objectives of European common action.
I do not judge by reports in newspapers, but on the innumerable occasions I have had to meet and consult with our other partners I have found their experience to be one of great, great disappointment. They were disappointed because they found the actions and postures of the British Government on the development of the Community petulant and petty-minded. I find that unacceptable in the state in which we find ourselves in this country and in the state we should be in after the referendum.
The right hon. Gentleman underlined the need to debate only the White Paper and the need to take account only of the events that have taken place. I believe that nothing in that White Paper or in this debate debars us from discussing things which have not taken place to the damage of this country and to the Community at large.
One bright light that shines out in an otherwise dismal world is the Lomé Con- 1716 vention, but this simply throws into greater highlight the deficiencies in other areas. In dealing with the whole range of Community problems it is impossible, in the time that one could reasonably accord oneself in the debate, to do more than scratch the surface, and no doubt much will be said about institutional, trading, budgeting, agricultural, economic, monetary and industrial problems faced by the Community. One is bound in this vast spectrum of activity to try to select those areas in which one feels perhaps the most involved and most concerned. I deliberately, therefore, reserve for tomorrow's statement some reference to the matters concerned with the performance we have just witnessed at the meeting in Rome.
I therefore seek to concentrate more on industry, the missed opportunities, the delays, the deferment of decisions, the incompetence that has been shown by the Community as a whole—I make no excuse for it—but no less by the British Government, whose performance is really unacceptable.
For example, there is the whole question of energy policy, particularly in relation to representations at the Paris conference due to take place this month. This question of representation is a smokescreen for the reality of the problems within the Community on energy policy. The absolute overriding need which has been there intensively ever since this Government took office has been to find means of optimising the resources of the Community in terms of its own energy needs. The meeting of the great producing States is of much importance, but the Community in the near and long-term future faces problems of a quite overwhelming kind both in cost and shortage of energy terms, and in mal-utilisation of energy in terms of maximum economy or optimum use of energy resources.
Our problems in the Community are not to try to differentiate between our own interests and those of the Community. Our interests are in any case ascertained and preserved. We have to try to see how, with the remarkably valuable resources which this country has, we can combine, not to our disadvantage but to our advantage, to ensure that this Continent moves forward to a more valid and useful future. Those interests are not incompatible. There is no 1717 incompatibility between British interests—as a great consumer but also as a great and growing producer of energy—and those of our partners in the Community. The endeavour—which to my mind has been carried to a point of ridicule—to underline what is apparently thought to be a contrast has done ineffable damage to our position in the Community and, I believe, to ourselves as well.
I speak next of another industry where the problems are in some ways no less severe. We see in the White Paper a brief statement concerning the shipbuilding industry and the provision of continuing arrangements within the Community concerning the subsidisation of this industry, but they absolutely fail to take account of the fact that this vast great traditional industry in this country is now facing a deep recession, in concert with the same industries in every Community country. Indeed, it is more widespread in other European countries which might well in days to come be members of the Community. It is facing a period of recession which, unless early action is taken on a Community basis to overcome it, may well land us without a shipbuilding industry—nationalised or not—within a decade.
That is where the issues bite, and that is where there is a need for the Government to show their determination to lead their partners into an understanding of the dangers that beset this industry, and the need to find measures to overcome them.
I turn now to a third industry, the aircraft industry, which was also treated yesterday to the nationalisation process. The aircraft industry is nationally a profitable and advantageous industry. This morning, writing in The Times, Sir Arnold Weinstock noted that this industry, as we all recognise, has no means alone of producing a civil airliner for the next generation of requirements; therefore, great importance must attach to the need to progress with vehemence towards a Community common action on this matter.
What action have the Government taken in this respect? Virtually none. The Commission has made proposal after proposal. They are not necessarily the right solutions. They pose difficult problems, but the truth is that they bring home, as nothing else can, the urgency and the danger which beset this enormous 1718 industrial employer and earner in this country, and in the Community at large. What have the Government done? As far as I have been able to see and to hear, they have done little to pursue this urgent and immediate need.
There are other industries which could, I am afraid, be referred to in the same context. I have been glad to see the Community make modest progress—modest indeed, and little supported by the Government—in improving Community action on data processing. But it represents a very tiny advance concerning a problem facing the Continent as a whole in terms of its future capacity to sustain the industry.
I have deliberately stuck to the industrial element of the Community's activity, but it is in some ways illustrative. We have these overwhelming problems ahead of us. We have energy problems, industrial problems and electronics problems of all kinds, which face us as a country but which more and more are evidently not soluble within a national context, yet we have frittered away at least six months—if I am limited to those, but I would say two years—in idle argument and discussion, instead of trying seriously to advance in fields where the Community should advance.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
The right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and I have had the experience of following one another on many occasions in these debates. After listening to his speech today, I am hopeful that it will not be very much longer before his views are harmonised with my own.
It is perhaps fortunate that the debate has fallen immediately after the summit conference in Rome yesterday, although frankly, it would have been more helpful if we had had an official and reliable statement of what actually happened there yesterday.
The debate enabled the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) to damn the EEC with extremely faint praise and the right hon. Member for Knutsford to damn it almost without any praise at all.
However, we are informed from the Press—and the Minister's speech, which 1719 gave us remarkably little new information, appeared to confirm this—that the Prime Minister committed us yesterday at the Rome Conference to direct elections to the EEC Assembly. Neither the Prime Minister nor my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had any authority to do this, either from this House or from the electorate.
The referendum—on which I take my stand, as does my right hon. Friend—gave no mandate to the Government for direct elections, because the Government most carefully refrained throughout the referendum campaign from saying that EEC membership involved direct elections to any federal parliament. Indeed, the Government's referendum manifesto—the little popular pamphlet which was distributed to every household in the land—said this:No important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament.It also said—I quote this in view of what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said today about the decision being irrevocable—that membership depended on thecontinuing assent of the British Parliament.Those were the Government's words in the pamphlet, and there was no mention anywhere in it of direct elections to the EEC Assembly.
The Foreign Secretary has recently attempted to argue—and so did my right hon. Friend the Minister of State today, I thought extremely weakly, without any chapter and verse or exact quotation from the treaty—that there is a treaty obligation on the United Kingdom to proceed to direct elections. There is no such treaty obligation, as everyone knows who has troubled to read the actual words of Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome. Let us therefore look at the words and not take refuge in vague platitudes and ambiguities.
The words of Article 138 are unusually clear for the Treaty of Rome. First, it states that:The Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States.Secondly, it says that:The Council shall, acting unanimously, lay down the appopriate provisions, which it shall 1720 recommend to Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.Therefore, there is a treaty obligation on the Assembly to draw up proposals and on the Council to make recommendations. There is no legal obligation in the article or anywhere in the treaty on the member States at all.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
Then what is the purpose of this article? Is it purely to enable the Assembly and the Council of Ministers to go through a meaningless pantomime? Does it serve any purpose?
§ Mr. Jay
The hon. Gentleman may express an opinion of that kind. However, I was quoting the actual words of the Treaty, which is a legal document, and it is clear beyond argument that there is no legal obligation on the member States, as opposed to the Council or the Assembly.
What is more, the Council is explicitly mandated to recommend provisions to member States; and, as all hon. Members know, including I am sure the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), Article 189 lays down equally clearly that…recommendations and opinions have no binding force.That must mean that member States are free within the Treaty to accept or to reject recommendations from the Council.
Secondly, the Council has to act unanimously even in making the recommendation. That means that each member State has the right of veto, though I do not discuss now whether it should use it. To quote again the words of the Government's referendum manifesto,The Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new law or new tax if he considers it to be against British interests.That was the pledge given to the public in the referendum campaign. Therefore, it is clear, whatever we think about the policy or the merits, that there is no legally binding obligation in the Treaty of Rome on any member State to proceed to direct elections.
§ Mr. Hattersley
My right hon. Friend now talks about a legal obligation. I talked about an obligation in principle. Reading the words, as my right hon. Friend has done, and understanding their 1721 implications, as I am sure he does, would he not regard it as a grotesque breach of faith if a British Government accepted that provision but said that we were not committed to it because of the narrow legalistic interpretation that my right hon. Friend has just advanced?
§ Mr. Jay
My right hon. Friend is now changing his ground. Two weeks ago in this House, the Foreign Secretary said that there was a treaty obligation which we would honour. My right hon. Friend is now admitting that there is not a treaty obligation, but saying that on political and general grounds he thinks that this is a step which we should take. That is a quite different issue. But, on the matter of principle, if the Government say to the people in a referendum campaign that the British Government, in the Council, have the right to accept, to reject or to veto any proposal of this kind, they should not come back afterwards and say that because something is recommended they are bound to accept it. In terms of the law, the position is clear. In terms of principle, that is my answer to my right hon. Friend. Therefore, it is perfectly clear that there is no legal obligation, and frankly I regret that my right hon. Friends should have gone some way to mislead the public into believing that there was.
I ask again the question which my right hon. Friend did not answer in the middle of his speech. If there is really a legal obligation in the Treaty of Rome on the United Kingdom to accept direct elections, why did the Government never mention this in the referendum campaign? Was it because they had not then become aware of it? Or did they know it and seek to conceal the fact from the electorate?
This is hardly a minor matter. Direct elections, if they go beyond mere appearance, convert the Common Market into a federal State and therefore involve a fundamental loss of sovereignty by the member States. Either the elected Assembly has no power, in which case it really is just a sham. Or, if it has real, substantial power, the member countries inevitably are bound up in a federal system to that extent, and cease to be fully independent sovereign countries. Whether any of us favours this is another matter, and I can imagine that some do.
1722 But, as Hugh Gaitskell said in his memorable speech in 1962, it is not a matter to be decided light-heartedly after many centuries of British history as an independent nation.
In my view, it is not for the Prime Minister, during a two-day trip to Rome, to commit us to the revolution without any authority from this House or from the electorate, whatever one may think of the exact provisions of the Treaty of Rome. I remind my right hon. Friend that even he, in answer to a question of mine in this House since the referendum, agreed—and I think he will still agree—that the referendum vote was not a vote for joining a federal State.
§ Mr. Jay
That statement was made by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk), and I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend agrees with it.
I hope at least, therefore, that we shall have a clearer confirmation than we have had so far from the Government today—and I gather that no further ministerial statement is to be made tonight—that direct elections cannot take place without legislation by this Parliament, and that no binding commitments have been made to the other countries concerned and will not be made, unless and until such legislation has been passed.
§ Mr. John Davies
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as matters stand at present, conclusions reached at the European Councils are subject to further action within the Community before they become capable of implementation legally. Therefore, it may be that the whole of what he has said to date is suspect in some sense in relation to the current constitutional position within the Community.
§ Mr. Jay
The right hon. Member for Knutsford, who has great knowledge of these matters, sounds as though he is confusing regulations, decisions and directives with recommendations. It is quite plain from Article 138 that the only power that the Council has in this matter is to make a recommendation which he knows quite well is not binding.
As my right hon. Friend said something, but I thought lamentably little, about the common agricultural policy, I should like to ask what has become of 1723 all the promises that we had of a major reform of that policy and of the stocktaking document which was supposed to produce great benefits for the country. More and more, people are asking why France can flagrantly break the rules in this matter—for instance, by imposing an illegal tax on imports of wine—and no one does anything about it, while the vital British interests in major reforms of the CAP are being ignored almost totally.
When are we to have a firm Government statement on the final decisions taken arising out of the stocktaking document? We did not get it today. May we also have some answers to the questions on the CAP which were never answered, ostensibly through lack of time, in the debate in this House on 17th October? Is it true, for instance, as both the Economist and the Financial Times have told us, that the EEC is now intending to spend in 1976 about £1,000 million—about one-third of the entire EEC budget—purely on taking dairy products away from the consumer, and over £300 million of that £1,000 million on feeding skimmed milk back to animals? Those are just one or two of the details of the common agricultural policy which one could discuss at very great length. What is the position of the New Zealand butter quota? We have only Press reports indicating that other members of the EEC are trying to squeeze this quota far below what we were promised in the renegotiations.
When will the Government make a really substantial effort to reform these indefensible agricultural policies which are doing so much damage to our balance of payments and our standard of living?
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Inevitably I shall pick up some of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) on more than one occasion in his speech. However, I shall deal with those matters in the course of my speech rather than referring to them immediately.
Basically, I agree with what the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said. I am very disappointed by the type of progress which is outlined in the 1724 White Paper. Obviously, I approach this matter from a different standpoint from that of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North. I am a supra-nationalist and he is not. Therefore, inevitably he is worried about the very small movement in this direction, and I am equally worried about the lack of movement. It seems to me that in the months which the White Paper covers Britain has been the Community's brake when she had many opportunities to be the Community's motor.
§ Mr. Johnston
I shall deal with the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) in a moment. Indeed, I shall devote a special part of my speech to her.
Basically, Britain has not been responsible for initiating progress, despite the many statements which were made at the beginning and which are quoted conveniently and helpfully in the annexes of the White Paper.
On 9th June the Prime Minister said:I now say to our partners in the Community that we look forward to continuing to work with them in promoting the Community's wider interests and in fostering a greater sense of purpose among the Member States.In Luxembourg on 24th June the Foreign Secretary said:…it is my hope and intention, as far as I have responsibility in this matter, that we shall increasingly see the Nine countries acting as one in their relations with the outside world.I regret to say this has not been the case, and there are many individual examples which can be quoted. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Knutsford has already listed a number. I should like to refer to one or two matters before I turn to the main points which I wish to make.
I referred to the regional policy during the recent foreign affairs debate, but I believe that the whole attitude on regional policy was remarkably well summed up by Professor Dahrendorf, a Liberal and the former West German Commissioner in the Community, who, in the Europa insert in The Times this week, said:I have always held the view that a serious European regional policy is an essential feature for a policy for Europe. However, to date there has not been any serious European regional policy of this kind. What we now call regional policy is a limited process of 1725 financial adjustment without a genuine political conceptual foundation and is therefore quite inadequate.As I sat on the regional committee of the European Parliament throughout 1973 when the main guidelines were being laid down, the passage which I have quoted sums up very well my feelings on this matter. The reason for this cannot be laid at the door of the West German Government for reducing the size of the fund. To a large degree it must be laid at the door of the British Government for refusing to accept commonly applicable standards for regional development throughout Europe. If we do not have commonly applicable standards we do not have a common European regional policy.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Will the hon. Gentleman quote Professor Dahrendorf even further, because he also says that in Bonn we have been described as the "paymasters". Moreover, that is the West German Government's attitude and it has materially affected the effective setting out of a really useful regional policy. Professor Dahrendorf is implying that the attitude of other countries involves the effectiveness of the regional policy.
§ Mr. Johnston
Of course everyone is entitled to read into other people's words various things. However, I have the article before me, and Ralf Dahrendorf, understandably, knowing his views, objects to the word "paymaster" and points out quite justifiably and correctly that West Germany has benefited economically a great deal from its membership of the Community, and, therefore, those who use the expression—
§ Mr. Johnston
—yes, in Bonn—should not use it. However, that in no way detracts from the argument that I am advancing. I am putting forward the view that to a degree the British Government's attitude has helped the "paymaster" argument and given it a strength and credence which it would not otherwise have had.
The right hon. Member for Knutsford spoke about a number of matters such as pollution and the aircraft industry. One could add to the list, even safety glass for windscreens in motor cars, for example, where Britain seems to be 1726 the country which drags its feet. In the limited time available, however, I shall concentrate on only two subjects. First is the question of energy.
The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), the spokesman for the Conservative Front Bench, castigated the Government on the results of the Rome conference. I can remember about a fortnight or three weeks ago, during the last foreign affairs debate, the Government Front Bench pressing the Conservative Front Bench again and again to say whether it would favour Britain pressing for its own place at the Paris energy conference. There was a complete lack of answer. The Conservatives would not state their position, and, therefore, I believe that they are open to some criticism. At the time I said that it was wrong. I believed then that it was wrong, and I still believe that it was wrong for a number of reasons.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Knutsford when he referred to a "Pilgrim's Progress," because there is an element of that which we must never forget. This is a community with an ideal. There is no point in being a community if the case is otherwise. Both Front Benches are fond of saying that we must be practical and that the idealists should have their dreams in little corners; but that is not enough.
If one is in a community and one has a good card, surely one uses it within that community to strengthen one's position rather than as a means of setting oneself apart from that community. In my view, that is almost axiomatic. We are in the Community and have the advantage of being potentially the major oil producer in that Community. Therefore, surely we should seek to be the people who take the lead in evolving Community policy. That is a sensible course. After all, if one is to make a case for what the Government initially sought and quite clearly failed to achieve, it must be based on the idea that somehow we have different aims and objectives from the rest of the Community. Otherwise, why do it? What are those aims? Assuming that we obtained a separate place at the conference in Paris, no one has ever said what the British representative would have said which would have been different from what the Luxembourg representative would have said on behalf 1727 of the Community. Herr Schmidt's response to the Prime Minister's remarks about joining OPEC was understandable and reasonable.
In June the Foreign Secretary said:There is another important and related field whereby acting together we can promote our common interests in relations between producers and consumers of energy.We had a great opportunity to take the lead—that is what the right hon. Member for Knutsford was criticising and what I am criticising—in seeking harmonisation not of the petty-fogging tittle tattle that the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet rightly criticised, but of a major central issue in formulating a European policy and perhaps in turn building a bridge with OPEC.
Secondly, there is the question of direct elections. With respect, the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, not for the first time—of course, I am being opinionated in saying this—displayed his continuing inability to understand the spirit, purpose and point of the Community. It is not that we must do only what is legally laid down. If we lived our lives in that kind of way we would lead a pretty miserable existence.
§ Mr. Johnston
I agree that it is certainly always best to know where one stands legally. But what the Minister, who has since temporarily departed from our midst, sought to point out to the right hon. Gentleman was that it was not only the words which were important, but what one read into them and what one intended to do in joining the Community.
If we go back to the referendum, which the Minister determinedly refused to do, it was all about the famous Tory terms which were so destructive to this country. The argument was about the current economic situation. No one from the great democratic Labour Party made terms that the process of the democratisation of Europe should be accelerated and that this was what we wanted to see happen. I found it extraordinary then, and I still find it extraordinary, that Mem- 1728 bers of the Labour Party seem willing and anxious to retard the process of democratisation.
§ Mr. Spearing rose—
§ Mr. Johnston
If I may be permitted to finish this point, the hon. Gentleman may have added ammunition to throw at me when I give way to him. It seems that in the referendum, the Labour Party, and certain elements within it still, on the one hand, yielded to a British nationalistic argument, but, on the other hand, condemned with the utmost fury the Scottish National Party for using precisely the same arguments on behalf of Scotland as they had been using on behalf of the United Kingdom as a whole. The two arguments are nationalist and comparable.
§ Mr. Spearing
I think that the hon. Gentleman will know that many hon. Members on this side of the House are not too keen on the Market for reasons of internationalism. Does he agree that just having a vote to an Assembly of indefinite power is not necessarily an advance towards democracy? Does he also agree that the Council of Ministers should issue a list of its decisions? Would not that be immediate and more effective democracy? Does he further agree that going to an Assembly which would gain power would inevitably mean a federal State?
§ Mr. Johnston
I would welcome a federal State. That is the difference between us. I do not dissent from the hon. Gentleman that it probably would be of value for the Council of Ministers to issue a list of its decisions. However, I do not think that it is practical in all sense for the Council to make its discussions public.
§ Mr. Johnston
Its decisions, yes. That is a valid point.
To return to the main argument, because time is always against us, in short I fail to understand the Labour Party's approach to direct elections.
The hon. Member for Crewe interrupted the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet rather critically, as far as I could understand her, on the whole concept of direct elections. It would appear that the hon. Lady prefers preferential 1729 appointment to democratic election. We now have a delegation in Strasbourg which is preferentially appointed, not democratically elected. If she prefers the former to the latter I am very sad.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The only thing which would convert me to any change would be not to have the situation which arose in the Liberal Party when an elected representative—namely, the hon. Gentleman himself—was removed from the so-called European Parliament to be replaced by a Member of another place.
§ Mr. Johnston:
That the hon. Lady should have the total and unutterable gall to produce that as an argument leaves me virtually speechless—
§ Mr. Johnston
—which, for me, is a fairly rare condition. I shall certainly return to that point later. I do not want to use too much time or break off from the argument that I am putting forward.
In our last foreign affairs debate we were told by the Foreign Secretary—indeed, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet agreed—that direct elections were difficult, that we had to be practical—the "in" word is "practical"—and that we should not hurry too much. Now we are suddenly told that there will be direct elections in May 1978.
There are many contradictions in both parties about the whole business of direct elections. It is not only the Labour Party which is open to contradiction. Recently the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), whose presence is here even if he is not, urged the importance of direct elections. But, as short a time ago as 1973, at Hampton Court, the right hon. Gentleman said:I hope that our objective of a democratic community is not going to be misdirected by a desire to see direct elections to the European Parliament. I believe that we have so much to achieve, without diverting ourselves from our real objective by an argument on whether we have to have direct elections or indirect elections for our democratic system.That was quite recent. I should like to know precisely the Conservative Party's position. I have heard the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) expostulate at length in the Strasbourg Assembly, but when he has come back 1730 to this House a quietness has fallen over him. The same arguments have not been put forward, and there has been no evidence of enthusiasm—if enthusiasm is a quality which the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet recognises—within his speech either today or, for that matter, in the recent foreign affairs debate.
We also have the Labour Party's view. Fortunately and conveniently, we have the Foreign Secretary's statement quoted in the White Paper. Referring to direct elections, the right hon. Gentleman said:I have asked that these should be studied. There are difficulties for us as for others. I cannot promise we shall be able to put forward an answer in July.This is December.Matters are complicated by devolution of powers to Scotland and to Wales and I cannot promise that we will have an early reply but I do not intend to hold this up.Splendid.We will try to be ready in the autumn. I hope you will consider this is reasonable".The autumn leaves have fallen and the winter is upon us. Yet we are not even at the beginning of an answer. What I find extraordinary is that this autumn we had a White Paper on elections to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies in which there was a section on the European Community. Paragraph 87 reads:The Government must remain responsible for all international relations, including those concerned with our membership of the European Community; no other course would be compatible with political unity".Does that mean that in June the Government were seriously thinking that the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies should have representation in some way in the European institution? There is no other explanation, as far as I can see, for the lack of continuity between these two views.
What, therefore, is the position now, and has it changed? What is now going to happen? As I said, we have the report in The Times—I read The Times as well as The Guardian—in which we are told—and it is the only thing we have to go on—The first direct elections to the European Parliament will be held in May 1978, with Britain and Denmark being allowed to decide their own dates.What exactly does that mean? Does that mean that we are to have a different date?
1731 Incidentally, from the point of view of at least one Scottish Member on the Government Benches, he and I know that this will be just about the same date as the elections for the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, paradoxically. It could be very awkward in that sense; but never mind.
What is going to happen? The result of direct elections will be an increase in the size of the European Assembly and an increase in the British representation from the present 36 to presumably the 67 recommended in the Patijn Report. Will the difference be made up by appointment? That is the sort of thing that apparently the hon. Member for Crewe would enthusiastically welcome.
The fact is—I return directly to the hon. Lady's intervention—that when the Labour delegation went to Strasbourg, the Liberal representation was reduced from two to one. Because of that, if for no other reason, I still feel very critical of the Government in this matter. The situation was that if we had seen the British delegation appointed in the same proportional way as the West German delegation, for instance, there would have been seven entitled to go, but, in fact, the Liberal representation was cut from two to one because of an unholy and undemocratic alliance between the Labour and Conservative Front Benches. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] There is nothing to be proud about in that, nor are there any debating points in it at all.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
There is one exception to that. When the Liberals had the chance of having only one representative at Strasbourg, they chose to have a peer who represents no one and is probably the most unpopular member in the whole Strasbourg Parliament.
§ Mr. Johnston
I have a great respect for the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), but a remark of that sort is not particularly worthy of him. If he wishes to make criticism of my noble Friend Lord Gladwyn in personal terms such as those he has used, I think he ought to do it to his face and not in this Chamber in that way.
§ Mr. Johnston
The hon. Gentleman may well be a master of abuse. I certainly would not try to challenge him in that area. However, perhaps I may answer the question which he put in such an impolite fashion. The answer is that we were put in an impossible position by an act of great unfairness. We decided that because my noble Friend Lord Gladwyn was involved in a long and complicated report, he should continue on there until he had completed it. That was a perfectly reasonable decision to take. What was totally and utterly unreasonable in all of this was the action of the Government. It is all very well that the hon. Member for Fife, Central, and the hon. Member for Saffron Walden, for that matter, should be engaged, as they now both are, in arguing for stronger budgetary powers for the European Assembly. But I would be against giving it stronger powers over anything if it is simply to be a body consisting of people appointed rather than democratically elected.
It is not only the Liberal Party here which is of importance but also the Scottish National Party, the Ulster Unionists and the other Ulster parties, because Europe will not work if minorities are repressed. If minorities are repressed we shall not have a development of harmonious relationships.
I understand that the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), another Member for whom I have the greatest respect, is to speak later in the debate, almost in his position as Leader of the Labour Party delegation. I am sure that he will recall that he was one of the members of a committee of the European Movement which produced an excellent document suggesting ways in which elections could be operated in this country and which came out in favour of a proportional system.
Lastly, we have not said anything about the Tindemans Report. There is no time for me to say anything more about it, but at the end of it all, unless we in this House and in the country at large begin to think and talk in terms of supra-nationalism, the whole great adventure—the "Prilgrim's Progress" of the right hon. Member for Knutsford—will come to nothing. I should deeply regret that, and so would every citizen of this country.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) is not in the Chamber at present but is here in spirit. I would say to Government Benches that the right hon. Hugh Gaitskell is not here, regrettably, but, my goodness, he is here in spirit on this subject.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said that traditionally his speech followed that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), or the other way around. I think that the hon. Member for Inverness will agree that I follow him or he follows me in practically every debate that we have on this subject.
However, one thing I would say about the hon. Gentleman is that I respect him because he sees the logic of the Common Market totally, because he is an out-and-out federalist. I respect him for that, although I disagree with him because that is why I entirely disagree with the Common Market.
Now that the Minister has returned to the Chamber, I should like to deal with one of his remarks. Perhaps he did not mean it in quite the way he said it. He said that we were irrevocably in the Common Market. I think he meant that that was as a result of the referendum. But it is not legally so, because the Government's little paper, during the referendum campaign, saidour continued membership will depend upon the continuing assent of Parliament.Therefore, it is revocable. It is not irrevocable. I thought that I had better put the Minister right, as he is a Minister in the Foreign Office and is concerned with the Common Market, about the situation in which this country stands vis-à-vis the Market.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I should like to speculate on the habit that opponents of the Common Market have developed of taking their legalistic quibbles to absolutely European proportions. I should have thought that the tradition of this House and this country was that we looked at these things practically. Looking at the practical reality, does the hon. Gentleman really think that the question might be re-opened, that another 1734 referendum might be held, or that the House might vote to withdraw Britain from the Community?
§ Mr. Marten
With respect, that was not really the point. I was quoting exactly what the Government said. If what they said is impracticable and is nonsense in terms of what happens in this country, why use that argument in the referendum campaign? Is the referendum result now to be declared null and void because the country was misled? That is something which the hon. Gentleman ought to consider.
I come to a technical question of the procedure in the House for dealing with Market proposals and proposed legislation, which we have not yet got anywhere near right. I am a member of the Scrutiny Committee. The Committee does its best. It refers matters to the House for debate. As we all know, such debates take place at a ridiculous hour of the night. I do not think that they can be taken as a reflection of the will of the House at all, because very often there are only two Back-Bench speeches, which does not reflect the view of the country or the House. Now we have a new Committee which, I understand, is powerless to express an opinion. It can merely note something. It cannot say whether it rejects it or accepts it. That is useless. More and more of the debates on the Floor of the House are "take note" debates, without amendments being made. The House is not exercising its powers, as we were told it would do after we entered the Community. We must look at this matter again. We have not got it right.
I was in Brussels the other day and I came across the question of the driving licence, which we debated in, I think, the summer of 1972 or 1973. I put a motion on the Order Paper then saying that we did not like this proposal and, after a lot of badgering every Thursday afternoon, the Government gave us time to debate it. In the end, they accepted the motion, and that decision went back to Brussels, and resulted in the proposal being withdrawn. I imagine it will be re-submitted in a more sensible way, bearing in mind the decision of this House. We need more debates in which we can actually take decisions.
1735 I see the problem of binding Ministers too closely when they go to negotiate. They must have a certain amount of latitude, but they should be bound within certain limits, and if they want to go further, they should have to report back to this House or to a relevant committee, if we ever establish a committee which is relevant.
I see no reason for the House not having had a statement today on the Rome summit meeting. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are so embarrassed that they have ducked out of making a statement which could have been referred to in this debate. The date of the conference has been known for weeks and the Leader of the House could have put down this debate for tomorrow. The statement could have been made then and we could have debated it afterwards. The Government have ducked out of it and should be severely criticised for doing so.
We must await the statement because we do not know yet whether the proposed European passport is to be compulsory. Am I to be asked to give up my British passport with the Royal crest on the front? I am very proud of it. Why should I be asked to give it up? What purpose is there in it? Surely I can use my passport in France, Germany or anywhere else? Why do I need a new passport with the word "Community" written on the front? This is a classic example of a step towards federalism. I know the Liberal Party will welcome it, but this sort of thing will go on happening until we are locked into a federal State from which we cannot withdraw.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North has adequately dealt with the commitment to direct elections to the European Parliament. May I ask the Minister to get his legal advisers to look at this again? I have seen the correspondence the Foreign Secretary has had with his colleagues, and his arguments are very debatable. I am a lawyer, though not of the eminence of the Foreign Office lawyers, and I try to interpret Acts. I do not see any commitment. How can we be committed to something if we do not know what it is? We do not know what powers the new Assembly will have or how many members there 1736 will be. It is an impossible situation to be committed to something which is unknown.
If we were committed by the Treaty of Rome on 1st January 1973, why did the Government say in the White Paper before the referendum—and this is repeated in the White Paper we are debating today—that at the Heads of Government meeting in Paris last December there was support for the view that elections to the European Assembly was one of their objectives, but that the Prime Minister made clear that the United Kingdom could not take up a position on this proposal before the process of renegotiation had been completed and the results submitted to the people in the referendum? If he could not take up a position before the referendum, he still cannot take up a position. The referendum has not altered the Treaty of Rome one iota, and the Minister of State has said that we were committed by that Treaty.
The White Paper says that any scheme for direct elections will require an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom. What right has anyone to require an Act to be passed when Parliament has not discussed or voted on this matter? This is an intolerable attitude. If there are ever direct elections to the European Assembly, it will become a legislative Parliament.
There are two indicators to back up my claim. Paragraph 12 of the communiqué issued after the summit meeting in December 1974 says:The competence of the European Assembly will be extended, in particular by granting it certain parts in the Community's legislative process.I cannot imagine that, say, 600 people would go through the bother of getting elected and then just twiddle their thumbs and express opinions without having any power—and power means legislation.
Article 3 of the European Parliament's draft convention on these elections says:Representatives shall be elected for a term of five years.Paragraph 2 says:The five-year legislative period shall begin at the opening of the first session…".It is clear that this will be a legislative body. If the majority legislating there is Socialist or Left Wing, it will pass 1737 the legislation it wants. As one hon. Member said on the day after the referendum "Now let us make it a Socialist Europe". That is how they will do it. But suppose the country elects a Conservative Government. How will they reverse Socialist legislation imposed on them by the European Parliament? They will not be able to do so. Equally, the situation could apply in reverse where the majority of the European Parliament was Right Wing and, for some curious reason, the electors of this country wanted another Socialist Government.
§ Mr. Marten
They might. They are sometimes peculiar.
We must recognise the extreme seriousness of this for our existing system of parliamentary democracy. Once the European Parliament begins to legislate, we are on the road down to a federal State. There can be no denying that. The passport proposal is an indication of what is in the minds of the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the Prime Ministers of member countries. It is all part of the same game. Yet in a debate in the European Parliament on 9th July, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk), referring to the referendum, said:it would be a very grave error to assume that was a referendum in favour of a federal Europe…".So why do we go on down this track towards a federal Europe? Some people may deny that we are doing so, but I wonder if they really believe that. After all, it is the only way the Common Market will ever be able to work.
In Germany last week, with the Select Comittee, I had the clear impression that the Germans intend that the Common Market should develop into a federal State. I was left in no doubt about that. Yet in this country certain people say that the Common Market will not become a federal State. I believe it must. We are wrong to mislead the Germans into thinking that this country will ever agree to becoming part of a federal State. Our leaders on both Front Benches should say firmly that we are in the Common Market because that has been accepted by the referendum, but that we will not be a 1738 federal State or a part of it. That would be a clear statement to the German nation.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
. May I point out to my hon. Friend that there is an alternative to a federal consummation, and that it is an alternative which is implicit in the Treaty of Rome? It is that we are on the way to a unitary State, for the Treaty of Rome imposes a legislative supremacy to the institutions of the Community. That is to say, it sets up the sort of relationship which used to exist between the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the subordinate Parliament of Ireland before 1782. While I follow my hon. Friend's argument entirely, therefore, it might not even be the powers of a federal province which remained in the ultimate to the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Marten
I would go along precisely with what my right hon. Friend says. That is the main reason why I have always opposed our membership of the Common Market.
Before Parliament agreed to direct elections—if it agreed, that is—we should have to know the precise powers that Parliament would exercise and the limitations imposed on those powers. We should need an absolute assurance that there would be no extension of those powers by the European Parliament itself, once it was directly elected, without the consent of each national Parliament.
Direct elections would create certain problems such as how to deal with Berlin and the problem of representation from tiny Luxembourg. If Luxembourg had one member, the Parliament would have to consist of about 700 members, assuming that each constituency in the Community was the same size as Luxembourg. The thought of 700 members commuting into Brussels is an absurdity.
Another problem would concern Belgium over the Walloons and the Flemish, but that is a particular problem for Belgium.
On what day would the elections be held? If we had direct elections, say, one year after our General Election the representation would reflect the swing against the Government which traditionally occurs at that period after a General Election. The representatives 1739 going to Europe would not reflect the feelings of the Government who took office at the last General Election.
Would the Parliament have a second Chamber. I am terrified at the thought of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) sitting in a second Chamber like some senior baron of Europe. I have looked at the idea of a dual mandate. I cannot see members surviving membership of both Parliaments. Physically, it could lead to a breakdown for people.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Does the hon. Member not agree that it is also of considerable importance whether or not parties are proportionately represented from Britain as well as the rest of the Community?
§ Mr. Marten
It may be, but that is a different question which depends on what is meant by proportional representation. There are so many different variations of it.
If we should agree to direct elections it would inevitably lead to a federal or unitary State, and I can see no escape from that. The Common Market will work only if it ultimately becomes that. We must deal very carefully with this issue and not be taken along on a tide because the Prime Minister agreed to it at the Rome conference.
The real answer to the whole of our problems is to have a much wider grouping of what is really Europe—not this narrow grouping—based on a free trade area bringing in OECD and NATO so that it can grow organically over a much longer time scale into the sort of unity, but not union, which we all want whatever view we take of the future of Europe.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
I welcome this opportunity to speak, not least because those of us who sit in the European Assembly have a special responsibility, which is to express our opinions on what is happening there to our colleagues in the House of Commons. One aspect of the European Parliament which is exceedingly helpful is that I can obtain there information about directives, recommendations and other aspects of Community policy that are not always 1740 made clear to an extremely busy House of Commons which, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) made clear, has still not got into correct perspective its procedure for examining the flood of paper which flows from Brussels.
I hope that we may be able to talk frankly in this debate. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) is not here. He displayed an endearing ambivalence. It hardly behoves him to attack the demands of the British Government for a seat at the energy conference and then to delight quite so openly when the Government are unable to sustain their demand in the face of the other EEC nations. I bitterly regret the fact that Britain has given way on an issue so important as the energy problem. The Minister of State said that he did not wish to dwell on the referendum, but the White Paper on the terms of the renegotiation made it perfectly clear that Britain would never give up control of North Sea oil and natural gas, and said so in simple and straightforward terms. Many of us believe that that kind of control will not be achieved if Britain takes a subsidiary place, with someone else putting forward an agreed and general policy. It will come only by pushing for specific interests to protect an issue of fundamental importance to the British people.
The right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) shares with me the responsibility of representing a very outspoken county. He said that in the six-month period that we are discussing the British Government had been responsible for the Community dragging its feet on the question of direct elections. I think that he said that Britain was acting as a brake. I find it increasingly difficult to understand his attitude. When other nations in the European Parliament, quite justifiably, protect their national interests, even to the extent of discussing particular industries and industrial involvements, they are accepted as being wholly European. If the British endeavour to do the same in an honest and straightforward manner they are constantly accused of dragging their feet, of being difficult, of being bad Europeans, and of seeking to wreck the Community.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will accept a bit of advice. In future he 1741 should not to try to negotiate; he should simply be as intransigent as the representatives of other nations. He should use fiscal policies on our borders to protect our interests, so that we may be taken to the European Court. By that time we shall have had enough time to protect whatever industry is concerned. Perhaps if we adopted that approach we would make better progress.
However, part of the problem in the discussion of matters such as direct elections is that the British are prepared to discuss the matter in their own Parliament, in straightforward terms. This afternoon there has been a great deal of discussion on the question whether or not there is a legal obligation. I do not want to follow too far in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend the Member for Batter-sea, North (Mr. Jay), although the position he has taken is the accurate one.
I am concerned that we are not yet spelling out precisely what direct elections will mean. This afternoon there has been a great deal of talk about honesty and practicality. If we are practical politicians, do we seriously believe that the British electorate, pushed into a constituency of a size that would be almost inevitable to produce 67 members of a European Parliament, will take an active interest in those elections, will be deeply involved, and will turn out in large numbers to vote? Or do we believe that only a small percentage will vote—perhaps a similar percentage to that which used to vote in some county council elections—and send to the European Parliament representatives who, precisely because they do not have a dual mandate, do not represent the people in an accurate and honest fashion?
European parliamentarians will not be more conscious of the real feelings of a democratic society if they hold a dual mandate than if they are simply sent there as representatives of one stratum of British society. We must resist attempts to remove from national parliaments the responsibility and power to make decisions that will affect the EEC while their representatives in the European Parliament are putting forward those ideas as a reflection of the views of the British people.
I should resist any attempt to move towards a proportional representation 1742 system. I am sorry to have to say that I believe that many of the newspapers and the quite sincere politicians who are pushing direct elections to the European Parliament are doing so because they regard it as a means of opening the way to proportional representation in Great Britain. They do so because they can see a a political advantage to themselves. This is a quite defensible attitude, but they should be honest about it. They should make it clear—as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) does when he talks about a federal Europe—that their reason for seeking this kind of proportional representation is that under our existing parliamentary system they are unable to get enough Members into the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston rose—
Order. This will be the second interruption from the hon. Gentleman, who has already addressed the House for 25 minutes.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Surely the hon. Lady will concede that it is quite democratic to seek to ensure that all points of view are represented in an Assembly, in proportion to the views of the people in the country?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Yes, precisely as long as one makes it quite clear, in the arguments one is putting forward, that one's interests are not only those of the European Parliament but extend to a much wider sphere, and that one is concerned about the political situation in this country. If that were so, and if the constant barrage of propaganda that is now beginning to pour out of some politically motivated—dare I say?—editors made it as clear as that, the debate would be very different from the one that has taken place so far. After all, it is precisely in the detailed work that takes place in Europe that the parliamentarians have a specific rôle to play.
I was entertained to hear that the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet did not believe that much had happened in the past six months. Those of us who sit on the committees of the European Parliament believe that there is a great deal of movement on all sorts of fronts—but never, I am sorry to say, on fundamental matters such as agricultural policy.
1743 Indeed, I have introduced the Agriculture Committee to a new, dirty word. I have only to say "consumer" to produce a gasp of horror around the table, because that word is hardly ever heard in any other place.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
If the hon. Lady does not agree, perhaps she can tell me an area in which, in the past six months, the consumer has been given protection of any kind that was not available before.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
The hon. Lady is very selective in her choice of dates. Had it not been for the EEC we should have been paying vastly more for sugar, due to the desperate world shortage of that commodity. However, she chooses to leave that figure out of account.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The hon. Lady cannot lead me off with old temptations such as that. She knows very well that 70 per cent. of the budget of the EEC is spent on agriculture, and she knows equally well that the European Parliament, in which she and I sit, has virtually no control over 70 per cent. of that budget and will not obtain that control while the EEC progresses in its present manner.
Unless there are some fundamental changes, it is no use discussing the Regional Development Fund. If one of the major Governments of the EEC say that they are not prepared to agree to any extension of finance for projects such as the Regional Development Fund, it is no use us, as a Socialist group, deploring the fact that the Social Fund is not large enough to help more people be retrained. One of the Commissioner's added up very neatly for me the problem of the EEC when, in Brussels yesterday, speaking on the question of employment, he said that it was not possible to do anything that was positive but it was possible to stop national Governments doing anything that was negative. His definition of "negative" was "protecting the interests of their own people in specific industries". That is not how I see my job, as a representative, or my future, either in this Parliament or any other.
If there is to be any realism in our discussion of the EEC there must be far tighter control over the day-to-day 1744 directives and decision-making processes of the Commission. Those who wax most eloquent in this House about the over-officered local government in this country might find a fruitful area of examination if they asked how many multinational civil servants were employed at various levels to produce—if I may use the term—tiny eggs out of an elephant. If there is doubt about that, I point out that those of us who sit on committees of the European Parliament are fascinated by the way in which, like the tide, civil servants flow in and out, according to which item the committee is discussing. We can instance highly hilarious situations when we have spent an hour and a half discussing a particular item on the agenda—an item which, if costed in terms of units of account, would mean that our discussion has cost more than if it had been decided by the Commission in the first place.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Does the hon. Lady agree that it is a remarkable fact that, in total, the Community consists of about 14,000 civil servants, in comparison with over 500,000 in this country?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I do not disagree with the figure that the hon. Gentleman has given. When I see how many that is—
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The hon. Lady should have rather more contact with both her own constituency and Government Departments. She would then see civil servants without any difficulty whatever. If the figure is 14,000 now, what will it be at the end of 10 years, particularly if we allow Commission institutions to grow at an even faster rate?
Those who take part in the European Parliament have a responsibility to return to the House of Commons and make it clear to other hon. Members exactly what is happening. We never have time to discuss the implications of, for example, pollution policy, the battle which is coming on tachographs, or the considerable changes which are to come in many areas of industry. Unless we tackle those subjects, and unless those of us who have a dual mandate are able to learn the views of all our colleagues, it will be a question not of whether direct elections to a 1745 European Parliament will produce changes but of whether the European institutions bear any relation whatever to the ordinary man in the street.
We are elected through a democratic system because people care about democracy. We must not forgo those responsibilities lightly, but we shall do so if we set up yet another tier, another bureaucracy, and another totally unrepresentative Assembly elsewhere.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
At first, I thought that I should find it difficult to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), but in many ways I agree with her. It is an unfortunate accident of timing that this debate takes place the very day after the Rome summit meeting, because we have naturally turned away from what I regard as the main object of this debate, that is, for us to report back to the House and discuss events in the European Parliament over the past six months. I hope, therefore, that if I do just that and stick to one area which is of interest to me, something worth while will result.
I serve on the Public Health and Environment Committee of the European Assembly. I had not dealt with these subjects in great detail before I went to the European Parliament, but I have learned a lot in the past few months. I have found a great deal of the work which passes through that Committee to be extremely worth while, and I believe that it will bear fruit in a better life for the peoples of the Community, irrespective of their countries.
There are, however, some rather disturbing elements within that committee and within the Commission, of which the House should take careful note. In my view, irrespective of the Government in power, this country has been in the van of improvements in the environment. Indeed, we can be proud of what we have achieved over the past 20 years. We do not, therefore, need lessons from anyone on the way in which we should look after and improve our environment.
The problem which I see us facing within the Community is the imposition of arbitrary standards which will be laid down for all Community countries, irrespective of whether those standards are 1746 required. I sense within the Commission an inability to take account of climatic differences or local considerations, and I am sorry to say that very often what is masked as an environment question and directive has its beginning in either political or economic circumstances. I deplore that. Within the Public Health and Environment Committee, the question of the bettering of the environment should take pride of place, rather than political or economic considerations.
In our committee—we must try to bring this to the notice of the Commission as much as we can—we should proceed only by comparing like with like. We must work for a sensible pattern of standards for the environment throughout the Community. What possible reason can there be for comparing, for example, the Mediterranean with the North Sea, or the Rhine with the Thames or the Tees—or, to come to more local matters, for joining in the same consideration Spaghetti Junction and a roundabout outside Dorchester? Of course, one cannot do that. It is no good saying that the situation around Spaghetti Junction is impossible, so we must impose a standard right across the board and take everybody to the level of pollution control that is applied to Spaghetti Junction. We run into deep water if we do that, and we reach decisions which are impossible for any member of the Community to carry forward for any length of time.
In my view, the Community, especially against the background of our present economic difficulties, should concentrate first and foremost on dealing with known problems on which we can reach a degree of acceptance that there is a risk to the environment and public health. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) mentioned motor car windscreens. Here is an obvious hazard on which we should all be looking for a common standard and working closely towards it.
An example of going the other way is the decision on the lead content of petrol. This has now been passed through the European Parliament and has been accepted by the vast majority of people within the Parliament, and it is now in the form of a directive which will eventually go forward to the Council of Ministers for acceptance. It will impose a common standard on the people of this country and of the Community.
1747 Speaking on this subject on 11th April this year—I quote his words to give the background and explain the story—the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment said:If lead is removed from petrol, more oil is needed to produce the same degree of efficiency. For balance of payments reasons the Government were not able to proceed with the next stage of the programme of reduction from 0.55 to 0.40 grammes per litre. Such a reduction would cost us £20 million per annum, provided that at current market prices all the other byproducts from crude oil could be sold.Those figures would, of course, have risen as a result of the rise in oil prices. The hon. Gentleman went on:I am told that it is far from likely that, if more oil were imported to be processed, we should be able to sell off all the byproducts. If that were the case, the cost to the country of the further reduction would be about £60 million. Therefore, between £20 million and £60 million is the best estimate I can give of the cost of the further reduction of the lead content in petrol."—[Official Report, 11th April 1975; Vol. 889, c. 1636.]That is a low estimate. Estimates that I have had from the oil industry are far higher. However, I should have accepted that reduction and the consequent cost if it had been proved to be necessary for the health of our people and the environment in which we live. All that the Commission says is:Whereas since in the present state of scientific knowledge there is no evidence to prove that existing concentrations of lead in the atmosphere do not constitute a danger to public health "—and so on, taking that as the basis for action.
That is a ludicrous way to work. One could apply it almost anywhere. As I said in the Assembly only the other day, proceeding on that basis we should now be thinking of banning boats from Loch Ness because, certainly at present, there is no firm evidence to show that there is not a Loch Ness monster, and if we banned boats now we should be guarding against the possibility that one might one day emerge from the depths and overturn the boats if they were still there. It is a ridiculous state of affairs, and we ought not to tolerate it.
There is always a clash between what is right for the environment and the economic cost. I know that other Governments—certainly the German Government—take the view that they have to balance 1748 these matters very nicely and, if it is regarded as in the interests of the Community and of the environment to take on the cost, they balance the economic consequences very carefully. On the question of lead content of petrol, my view, and the view of our group in the European Parliament, was that the case had not been proved, and we therefore opposed the directive, but I am sorry to say that we did not have the support of others within the Parliament.
The hon. Lady spoke of the way in which the Socialist Group at the European Parliament operates. I fully acknowledge that hon. Members here are part of your group, but I believe that there are certain matters on which one should stand apart from one's group, especially in decisions of this kind, which are wrong for this country and are not necessary within the Community I hope that in the months to come, as your Socialist Group settles down within the European Parliament, you will feel able to take a more independent line.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I shall do my best, but the hon. Gentleman must address the House in the customary way.
§ Mr. Spicer
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
It is right for us to judge each case on its merits and not to approach it on the diktat of a particular group within the European Assembly.
Many important decisions lie ahead of us. Tomorrow, the Public Health and Environment Committee will be discussing the problems of titanium dioxide—an important matter. From that discussion could come the closure of British factories. That could come about purely and simply because of the pollution that exists in the Mediterranean. I believe that the motivation behind the directive and the report that we shall discuss stems from a Mediterranean problem that is not applicable, for example, to the north-east of Britain. The economic consequences of allowing the directive to go forward and to receive the support of the European Assembly could be disastrous. From discussing the overall lead content of air we could go on and on.
Above all, we must not accept harmonisation for the sake of harmonisation within Britain or within the European 1749 Assembly. If we do that we shall bring the Assembly into disrepute. That would not help the people of the Community as we wish to help them.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I start with the simple proposition that as power within the European Community grows at the centre there should be a corresponding growth of power at the periphery. It is significant that Lord Kilbrandon, having sat through five long and hard years on the Constitution Commission, has said that it is his considered opinion that the new constitutional relationship for Scotland will be between Edinburgh and Brussels, with Westminster withering away.
Within the past week the Government have produced a mouse of a constitutional White Paper on devolution. The White Paper specifically excludes the Scottish Assembly from having its own links with the institutions of the European Communities. It argues, with gratifying frankness, thatno other course would be compatible with political unity.My hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), in her maiden speech in the European Parliament, recalled asking European officials what réle they suggested for Scotland. She received the answer,the leader of the downtrodden regions of Europe".That will not do. With equally gratifying logic, the Commission recognises that the only way Scotland can get representation across the board is by first achieving independence—in other words, by the Nine becoming Ten, with the tenth member being Scotland. I hope that this is the path which Scotland, given adequate guarantees on oil and fish, will follow over the next decade. In saying that, I trust that Scotland will get terms sufficient to stay in.
I am in good company because the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) has dared the Labour Party to accept full Scottish independence within the Community. How he expects to achieve that without simultaneously fracturing the political and economic unity of the United Kingdom is a curious exercise in both logic and semantics. Even the Conservatives in one of their more 1750 lucid moments have proposed a Scottish European Minister. Of course, in terms of devolution, the Conservatives now have a Thatcher position, a Heath position, a Rifkind position, a Taylor position, a Fletcher position and a Berridge position. I suppose that they are bound to be right at least part of the time.
In Scotland we need a separate Treasury to get indigenous growth in the economy. Likewise, we need separate representation in the Community both to play our full part in European affairs and to safeguard our essential interests, especially oil and fish. That does not mean that we seek nineteenth century nation-State sovereignty. There will be many constraints in terms of our strategic position, our geographical position and our trading links in a self-governing Scotland, just as there are now constraints on the United Kingdom.
In that sense, with Westminster having ceded sovereignty to Brussels, does the word "separatism" have any real meaning within the framework of the European Communities? That is an especially relevant question given the free movement of men and materials throughout the EEC. I ask the Treasury Bench and the Conservative Opposition to make it clear whether "separatism" has any meaning within the EEC. I have asked Ministers that question before, and, after an embarrassed and rather pregnant silence, I have been told that as the Government have ruled out separatism there is no point in discussing the matter. But that answer will not do today.
Both the Minister and his Opposition shadow know full well that their Scottish colleagues have been painting black pictures of Customs posts at the border, of the night mail being stopped and searched at Gretna and of Scots being refused a passport to visit their granny in Blackpool. English Members may be surprised, but that is the trivial, injudicious and invidious level of debate to which the Scots have been subjected in the past year. Let the Minister be more open tonight; let him admit that central decision-making in London has turned Scotland into a rather dull provincial society. Let him admit that it is time we Scots were outward-looking again, and that we should take our traditional place in the councils of Europe. In that sense, how can one be an internationalist unless 1751 one is a nationalist first? I look forward to hearing a clear definition of what separatism means within Europe.
I add a word of warning. The Minister should not make comparisons between Scotland and the "other regions" of Europe. The SNP has much sympathy for the Bretons, the Frisians, the Basques, the Occitanians and the Corsicans, though we deplore the methods that their wilder men employ. But there is a great difference in that they are minorities within their respective national boundaries. The Scots, representing the oldest nation in Europe within present boundaries, are an overwhelming majority in their own land.
The Scots were the first people to enter a common market in 1707, but they retained the essential ingredients of national life in their own institutions—a separate and European legal system, a separate Church, a separate educational system and a separate system of administration. If Luxembourg, with half the population of Edinburgh, can be represented at the top EEC table, why not the people of Scotland? If Denmark and Eire are there, why not Scotland? Why cannot Scotland sit alongside its friends from England and Wales as an equal British State, linked in a confederation similar to the Nordic and Benelux unions? These matters will be decided at the next General Election. Let me remind Ministers that in Scots law it is only the people of Scotland who are sovereign.
What is to happen in the meantime? In the past week we have had the White Paper. The SNP will now attempt to build on what devolution comes down to us and to strengthen the Assembly Bill. The Scottish Assembly will have some powers over Scots' health, education, transport, and a little power over agriculture and fisheries. Inevitably that means that Scottish Assemblymen will have a substantial interest in EEC decisions and in the growing stream of regulations from Brussels pertaining to those areas of Government. The EEC dimension will be an inescapable and integral part of the work of almost all Assembly committees. The Lord President should recognise that fact now and should take steps to ensure that Scottish participation in EEC decision-making is as complete as possible.
1752 The most important step is to get Scottish representation on the Council of Ministers. Even within the present system, Scotland has a separate role. On five occasions so far Scots Ministers have attended Council meetings, the most obvious ministerial involvement being at Lord Advocate level, the separate Scots legal system necessitating a separate Scottish voice.
Although these concessions go beyond the token representation given to the German länder, it is the intention of the SNP to ensure that Scotland is represented as part of the United Kingdom delegation to the Council of Ministers on all occasions and that the Ministers involved should be Assembly Ministers. To facilitate this involvement, the Assembly Government should include a Minister for European Community Affairs, accompanied at Brussels, where necessary, by appropriate Scots departmental Ministers. The Assembly should also be able to appoint an official who would be attached to the United Kingdom's Permanent Representative's Office and who should have ambassadorial rank.
In addition to having at watching brief over developments and the opportunity to speak on Scotland's behalf, the Minister for European Community Affairs should have a trigger on the United Kingdom veto, to the extent that the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs would not ratify any decision of the Council of Ministers until he had first secured his Scottish colleague's assent.
When the Assembly Bill finally comes before the House, my hon. Friends and I will seek to ensure that there is Scottish representation on such bodies as the Economic and Social Committee, the ECSC Consultative Committee and the Scientific and Technical Committee. Nominations for those bodies would tend to be made by institutions such as the STUC and the Scottish CBI but would be subject to Assembly sponsorship. As many of those areas where EEC secondary legislation is necessary are likely to impinge on the Assembly, it is logical for the implementation of such measures to be devolved, and that could be done by a fairly simple amendment to the European Communities Act 1972. I therefore hope that the Assembly will be empowered to set up its own sessional 1753 committee on European secondary legislation, perhaps in time extending its scope to review the implications of continuing United Kingdom legislation as it affects Scottish interests.
Finally, I look for an Assembly international affairs liaison committee which would have broad responsibility for protecting Scottish interests at international level, keeping a specific watching brief on United Kingdom foreign policy and preparing the ground for a final settlement of Scotland's relationship with the EEC.
Must the Government endure political disaster, similar to that in Bo'ness and Bishopbriggs last night, with Labour families, as one commentator said,crumbling away into tributaries of the self-government torrentbefore they revise their view of Scotland's place in the world? Is no rational conversion possible? Surely, an Assembly active in EEC affairs and capable of negotiating and developing Scotland's terms would allow a rational choice to be made.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)
I am the third member of the European Assembly to be called in the debate. It is a happy accident that the debate falls on a day on which most members of the European Assembly do not have duties on the other side of the water. It does not always happen that way. We can only continue to draw to the attention of the Leader of the House the fact that, so far as is conceivably possible, it is important for him to recognise that European debates in the House should not conflict with discussions in Europe in which we would wish to be involved.
Now that I have listened to the speech made by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), I am sorry that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) is not here to give her impressions of the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Barnett
I am sorry that I gave way. I hoped that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire would tell us that his hon. Friend was engaged in one of the committees of the European Parliament. I am disappointed not to have the pleasure of hearing her distinctive contribution to the debate.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
She might have been sorely embarrassed in seeking to defend her vote for Franco Spain.
§ Mr. Barnett
I was not aware that the hon. Lady had cast such a vote. It reflects rather ill on the Scottish National Party.
I listened with the closest interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), who, unfortunately, is not now present. I am sure that he will not mind my repeating something that he said to me. He was a little concerned that I might have changed my position, as expressed during the referendum campaign, but I was able to reassure him when he questioned me about it. The result of the referendum and my experience as a member of the European Assembly have in no way altered the opinion which I expressed during the referendum campaign. If anything, it has confirmed me in the prejudice that I expressed. The experience of closer contact with the Commission and European institutions generally has confirmed the opinions that I expressed in the campaign and have long held.
In the light of the misrepresentation that has been made against people who expressed anti-Market opinions during the campaign, I wish to state the assumptions upon which I base my opposition to our continued membership of the EEC and to explain exactly what they are.
We were gravely slandered when we were described as narrow nationalists. I have never been a narow nationalist. During the whole of my adult political life I have been a strong internationalist. This persistent attack may have been a vulgar calumny of people like myself—especially Labour Members—who feel strongly on international issues.
Upon thinking further about it, and in the light of my experience in the European Parliament, I have come to a conclusion on the question why so many people persistently referred to those who 1755 took up an anti-Market line as narrow nationalists. The reason is that the conflict which occurs within the European Parliament is a conflict between integration and nationalism, or national self-interest. That is certainly a feature of the European Parliament and it was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody). It is also a feature of the European committees and of the bargains that are reached.
Ever since its inception, the Community has proceeded on the basis that economic integration would lead inevitably and inexorably to political integration. That is the principle upon which the Community has proceeded. That was very much in the mind of Jean Monnet, years ago. That idea is a dangerous fallacy—a fallacy which is all too well illustrated in today's debate.
The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer), my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and others referred to the petty interference and regulation which has had the effect of driving public opinion against the very integration that the pro-Europeans seek. It is as though, with its concentration on economic matters, the Community has gone out of its way to annoy and irritate rather than to inspire and develop an interest in internationalism.
Reference has also been made to the constant desire for harmonisation. A recent example is sheep meat, a commodity that is predominantly produced and eaten in this country. The Community insists on grasping a wider area of Community interest in matters which are not of Community concern and should not be matters of Community control. That has had a disastrous effect on the Community and is one reason why it has not progressed as far as it should. It is a reason why the White Paper is such a low-key document. It may even be one reason behind the speech made by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), which was on such a low key. It may also be one of the reasons for the attitude of the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) who spoke in such disappointed terms about the progress of the Community.
I believe that there is another argument, which I used repeatedly in the 1756 referendum campaign and which worries me even more now that I see the European Parliament in action and the Community at much closer quarters than I did before the referendum. My objective always has been that there should be a wider and wider area of international co-operation. I was very interested in the altercation which took place between the hon. Member for Banbury and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on the question whether the European idea was a federal or a unitary one. I believe that the right hon. Member for Down, South was correct. The kind of developments going on are towards a unitary State, which I find very dangerous. I do not want to see a unitary State, and I am quite sure that the members of the Scottish National Party are not aware of developments. They believe that they will have all kinds of reserve powers, but that is not at all what is taking place.
Like the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), I am a federalist. I am a world federalist. Many years ago I listened with respect to those pro-Europeans who argued that the Community could be the beginning of a wider federal development. But one only has to remember the situation in this country, when proposal after proposal was made that we should become a member of the Community, to see the sort of difficulties which arise. The longer the Community has existed, the more directives, regulations and harmonisation has taken place and the more difficult it has become for new accessions to occur.
We have had appalling difficulties. We had to enter the Community as it was, with hardly any serious concessions being made to our special interests. We had to enter the Community as it was, at the stage at which we had to join. I pity poor Greece, and Turkey, and, perhaps one day in the future, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Spain and Portugal, if they wish to enter the Community, because, year by year, the Commission and the Council of Ministers are making it increasingly difficult for new States to join. That is of crucial importance, because those who tell us that they are good Europeans ought to accept that the European Community means nothing if it is not going to be able to take in the whole of Europe.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
The hon. Member is deceiving himself and the House. New members must join the Community as it is, but in future each will be given a transitional period in which to adapt itself to the Community as it will then become. This is important. The hon. Member is sliding over it.
§ Mr. Barnett
We have been granted a transitional period, but it has no respect to our basic interest. The hon. Lady may not recognise it, but the fact that over 70 per cent. of the resources of the European budget is spent on the common agricultural policy seems to fly in the face of this country's interests. I do not see any likelihood of change. I hope that the hon. Lady is right and that there will be a fundamental change in the whole of the Community as a consequence of our accession, but there is little evidence of that happening in the near future.
Of course, other countries can expect a transitional period. I hope that they will be able to expect something of that kind. But the Community does not seem to recognise that when it grows in size, in order to be a real Community serving the needs of all nations and all the people in them it must attempt to represent the whole of their interests and not deny the interests of its newest accessions.
This is an important point about the Community, because each of its regulations is a brick in a wall that excludes other possible members of the Community. If I had to choose between a unitary and a federal State I would choose a federal State, because many decisions made in Brussels have no business to be made there. We live in an age in which we appreciate the need to ensure that decisions are made, wherever possible, as closely as possible to the people affected by them.
One of the possible benefits of the European idea is that there should be the greatest possible diversity, rather than harmonisation. The whole history of our civilisation has been one of diversity, and it would be a tragedy for those who support the idea of the Community to allow it to go much further along the road to harmonisation or standardisation. The sad thing about the Community is the degree to which it has concentrated on the minutiae of its own internal econo- 1758 mic affairs. The future success of the Community lies in its external relations. Last week I attended the preparatory meeting of the Lomé Consultative Assembly, at which there were delegates from 46 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, as well as representatives of the European Parliament. It was largely an informal session. The proper consultative assembly cannot hope to come into existence until ratification of the Lomé Convention is complete. Nevertheless, one can see the development of something in the future in which the Community will have a real rôle to play—its relationship with the continent of Africa, the whole of the Caribbean and many countries in the Pacific—because it has a common interest in and responsibility towards countries and areas which are less affluent than those in the Community.
The contacts which the Community is beginning to establish with Latin America and other parts of the world indicate that there is a useful réle for such a Community, but possibly in the loosest possible way. Only by moving towards a loose federation, which is the kind of step we should take, shall we move towards the kind of association that can be extended, and which other countries can easily join.
This brings me to the issue of direct elections to the European Parliament. I believe that direct elections are likely to mislead our people into believing that they are obtaining what many people describe as a European Parliament which, somehow, can check on the Council of Ministers, and to which the Council of Ministers will be responsible. That may be the case at some stage in the future, but it is not the case now. Members of the Council of Ministers are responsible to their own national Parliaments. When a British Minister goes to the Council of Ministers it is to us in this House that he is responsible. It would serve only to mislead the electorate of this country or any other European country to have direct elections to the European Parliament, because it would allow them to believe that they were electing people whose job was the European job as opposed to having responsibility solely for British matters in this Parliament.
That, I believe, is the greatest danger. If we, in this country, and people throughout Europe decide that a federal 1759 Europe is wanted, with a federal Government, a federal court and a federal Parliament, that is one thing, but we ought to make that decision clearly. We ought to debate it, discuss it, produce a constitution, and then vote on it in our separate Parliaments, before moving towards a federal system. If we are not doing that, let us deceive ourselves no longer. Let us cut out the kinds of things that we have had in the past and deal with the practical and realistic situation.
The European Assembly has an important job to do, but let us not mislead ourselves by idle dream talk about the sort of institution that we would like one day to see without recognising that an elected assembly can be meaningful only in terms of a federal constitution, upon which we, as British people and as European people, must make a definitive decision.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)
The period of seven months covered by this White Paper—the period since the Budget—has been one of deepening gloom about the British economy, with high interest rates, rising unemployment, a falling exchange rate and serious anxiety about many of our problem companies. This period has brought home to the great majority of the people the unhappy truth that the British economy can no longer flourish on the basis of a nation State, particularly since the virtual break-up of the old sterling area. But we have to admit that there are serious obstacles in the way of conceiving the European Economic Community, as it is at present, as the obvious point of departure for a new period of growth and expansion in this country.
The EEC has all but completed its first phase, namely, the creation of a customs union; but it is sadly lacking in a sense of direction as to where it will go next. There is virtually no unity on capital account and practically no serious programme of development for creating a Community capital market.
The floating rates that have taken the place of the old Bretton Woods structure have certainly worked very much better than many people foresaw, but the floating rates structure has given 1760 rise to unpredictable risks to traders. Though the agreement at Rambouillet may lead on to a more stable exchange rate system for the Community we still have to wait and see.
It also has to be pointed out that our commitment to the free trade area has thrown up the over-valuation of the pound at the time of the Smithsonian Agreement, and indeed subsequently. Just at this time no one can be too confident that the pound will even be able to hold the exchange rate that it has reached in the last few days.
I believe that major structural changes are now needed in the EEC, particularly since we have virtually had to abandon the old programme of advance towards economic and monetary union by a gradual narrowing of the margins and the locking together of the currencies, on the lines recommended by the Werner Report.
Many people here and elsewhere thought at the time that the Werner recommendations were too ambitious, and it is now obvious that that approach is getting us nowhere. This is the problem which the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Tindemans, has been asked to examine, and we look forward to his paper on European Union some time in the next few weeks. I hope that it will contain practical recommendations that can actually be implemented, and not only cloudy ideals that we can regard as an ultimate objective, with no particular relevance to the problems of the present time.
I hope, too, that Mr. Tindemans will make recommendations that not only concern central banks and Governments but have a real meaning at ordinary level for the individual citizens of the Community. The European Community as conceived in the Rome Treaty is very much a matter for Governments and banks and national and European institutions. It does not really touch the man or woman in the street.
In the coming weeks I hope to have the opportunity, in the European Parliament, of discussing the series of resolutions which I have ventured to put forward, mainly in my capacity as rapporteur for economic and monetary union in the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee.
1761 On this vexed subject of economic and monetary union, it seems obvious that a new approach is needed. It is no good simply reflecting that the Werner Plan has not achieved any very useful result. We need to think of something else. Let us start from the acceptance of the fact that the national paper currencies will not unite in the foreseeable future. National Governments and central banks will insist on keeping their autonomy. If they do not, their habits of mind will simply be changed by the democratic forces within the member States. It is no good a Government deciding to lock its currency to the Deutschemark, perhaps or to a unit of account, only to find that they have lost popularity and gone out of power as a result. If we are to build some kind of economic and monetary union we shall have to try some altogether different road.
I believe that the increasing body of support for the idea of the alternative currency, or the "Europa", or the parallel currency—call it what we will—is pointing us tentatively in the right direction. I believe that there would be common ground if we said that the European Community needs a central reference point of unshakable integrity and certainty in monetary affairs, and that none of the paper currencies, not even the Deutschemark, is stable enough from the point of view of long-term transactions. I do not think that the basket of European Community currencies brought together to make the new Community unit of account will command much confidence in the long run.
My recommendations are, first, that we should establish a European cost of living index. In every country there exists an alternative currency already, in the form of a cost of living index which we use for comparison with the value of the paper currency from day to day. It is valuable that the Community is about to produce comparative data on the cost of living in the different member countries. If we could establish an agreed means of building up a European cost of living index it would be a helpful beginning. From that we could go on to establish a European standard of value.
A currency can have two functions. It can be a store of value or a standard of 1762 value, or both. I do not think that we can establish a European store of value all at once. That must come at a third stage, which may be quite a long way off; but I think it would be useful for long-term transactions to establish a European standard of value.
I shall give one example of what I mean. If a man starts his career in Britain, completes it in Belgium and finally retires in Italy, his pension rights should be linked to some kind of European cost of living index that gives him some degree of security that they will hold their value.
I hope that Mr. Tindemans will examine the various recommendations that have been made for launching a Europa, or at any rate a European central standard of value, and that this will be a new approach to economic and monetary union which will be more successful than the Werner Plan.
I should like now to touch on what I call the European social contract. I believe that it will become increasingly necessary to think in terms of harmonisation of the levels of social security benefits. In this country we have a particular interest in this subject because our levels of social benefit, for the most part, are so far behind those of the other members of the Community.
I should like to think that European citizenship guaranteed a minimum standard of living. In the first instance, it would be necessary merely to push up those benefits, in member countries, which were obviously anomalous, so that we did not have, as we do at the moment, a sharp change in the levels of family allowances for anyone moving from one Community country to another. I hope that in the not-too-distant future there will be an amalgamation of the national social insurance funds. That would be a gesture towards economic and monetary union which would have a direct relevance to the voters and bring genuine advantages to the man and woman in the street. I do not suggest that there should not be national levels of social benefit, regional schemes or company benefits; but I should like to see the establishment of a basic European social security scheme, supported by direct taxation and paid for from a central Community fund.
1763 It is not enough to give people a European passport and expect them to feel that they now belong to a great new society. There must be tangible benefits. Equally, there must be tangible commitments. I should like to see a relationship of obligation and entitlement between individual citizens and the Community, so that people could begin to measure in cash terms the benefits of belonging to the EEC.
What I recommend here has a direct bearing on the reform of the common agricultural policy. The motives behind the policy obviously are right, namely, to give some degree of security and dignity to people in agricultural communities, many of whom still live at something very near the poverty line. The original concept was that by making sure that the price of what they produced never fell below a certain point they could be confident of always enjoying a certain standard of life. But it was a naive and ill-conceived concept from the start and it is obvious that it will have to be changed. Some form of direct income support for low-income families will have to be introduced in the Community.
On the Continent, for the most part it is in the agricultural communities that there is an obvious need for direct income support, even for those in full-time work. But in the towns there is also a need for a benefit which will help people, especially those with families, who are on very low wages. The kind of European social contract that I envisage could begin to supplement the incomes of families in a way that would take the burden off the CAP, thus making it possible to reduce agricultural prices without forcing tens of thousands of people into destitution, or off the land altogether.
There would also be implications for regional policy if we could arrange a system of redistribution of income between rich and poor areas at personal level. Up till now, all the schemes that we have seen for regional distribution have had an institutional character, and have been rather unconvincing. If we could move towards a redistribution of income which would automatically tend to put funds in areas in which there are the largest accumulations of poor people, it would have a beneficial effect—albeit a "watering-can" effect. But perhaps 1764 a "watering-can" effect is just what we need if we want a thousand new flowers to bloom in the European economy.
Finally, I wish to touch on the question of institutional reform. We need to create a truly democratic community. Why should we not have direct elections? I have listened to several speeches today inveighing against the idea of direct elections, but I find it difficult to understand what the speakers fear. The European Assembly is not likely to become very strong while it consists only of nominated members of national Parliaments. If we trust the people, they, in turn, will begin to trust the European institutions. Initially, there might not be a very large turnout of voters, but when the European Parliament began to have real contact with the electors, it would grow in strength and we would have a two-way movement of ideas between voters and members which could only be beneficial.
The Council of Ministers is becoming a sort of Community Upper House, and it certainly shares the powers of Upper Houses to enforce delay. But the Parliament has not yet found its footing, and direct elections will be necessary if it is to establish itself. I feel that the European constitution is rather like that of Britain in the fifteenth century, with the House of Lords having virtually all the power and the House of Commons very timid, not sure even of its procedure and very unsure of its power.
Still on the subject of institutional reform, I wish to join the call for a single meeting place for the European Parliament, with suitable facilities for members and easy facilities for those who assist the Parliament's work. In my view, it should be in Brussels, and the move to establish a central meeting place for the Parliament should not be delayed. The ideal solution would be to get a new building ready by 1978, when we move ahead to direct elections.
The present weakness of the Community is its lack of any sense of direction. We have completed the first stage—the setting up of the customs union. Now we are preparing for a new stage of European Union, which is still very imprecisely defined. If we try to stay where we are, we as a country will not reap the possible benefits of our membership nor make the contribution of which we are capable.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have to inform the House that nine other hon. Members have sought to catch my eye and hope to succeed between now and 9.20 when, I understand, the winding-up speeches are to begin.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Miss Betty Boothroyd (West Bromwich, West)
I intend to confine my remarks to the two wide areas dealt with in the White Paper. The first is the Community's relationship with the world outside the member States, and the second is the more domestic policies of the EEC which touch upon us at home.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) mentioned that early last week some of us went to Luxembourg to talk with our counterparts from the 46 ACP countries. We came together there in a reasonably relaxed atmosphere. One of my tasks was to draft the rules of procedure for the new parliamentary institutions which will govern our future discussion of the Lomé Convention. There was a considerable degree of unanimity, and it was gratifying to me that, before we got to that stage, this House had at least ratified the Lomé Convention.
But I make one point here which I made last week in another place. It is that Government endorsement, parliamentary support and the pressure which we as parliamentarians put on the Government to do that little bit more are not enough. It is not enough simply to say that we have now ratified and have done our job. The important feature is the provision of the industrial co-operation and the transfer of technology to our partners in the developing world. To me, an essential ingredient of that involvement is the involvement of our social partners towards that end.
Within all our societies there are institutions and groups which are not to be ignored. There are people with great skills, resources and experience. If we mean what we say, our social partners in the trade unions, the employers' organisations and all these people who have contributions to make must be involved in this new strategy. It is only by harnessing the resources at our disposal and by making practical use of them that we shall breathe life into the cold print of these conventions.
1766 Lomé is not only valuable in itself and in what it attempts to do, but it is also valuable for setting possible precedents. If the Nine can reach agreement throughout the world with 46 other countries, surely we have a basis and a platform for wider agreements with the poorest nations.
In the short time that I have been a member of the European Parliament I have had to recognise that within the Nine there is what can be described only as a hard-line attitude towards further assistance from the Community to developing nations. Many of my colleagues in the European Assembly have made it clear not only that do we hope for such attitudes to be modified, but that we shall work towards bringing about a change in attitudes.
Few people would deny that today there is a total interdependence throughout the world. Mention is made in the White Paper of a new relationship with Canada. Prior to the referendum the Canadian Prime Minister had talks in Brussels with the EEC and sought a type of contractual relationship. As a member of the European Parliament, I was involved in talks with Canadian Members of Parliament, and they showed a considerable willingness for closer economic and commercial co-operation which went beyond the bounds of bilateral trade arrangements and into the areas of joint ventures into development, research, the exchange of technology and the supply of raw materials to Europe, to our mutual advantage.
Obviously, there are problems to be overcome. Some member Governments—certainly the British and French Governments—have historical and traditional trading links with Canada which mean a great deal to them. To interpose a new Community relationship while these historical and traditional ties remain is no easy task.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), who leads the Parliamentary Labour Party delegation to the European Parliament, will be winding up the debate for the Government. It would be unfair to ask him, as I was about to ask the Minister, if he would explain a little more fully that section of the White Paper which deals with the negotiations with Canada and tell us how far these 1767 contractual links with the Community, on a Canadian basis, have advanced.
I turn to matters closer to home and to the activities and adminstration of the Social Fund. I certainly welcome the increased allocation. This enlargement is an important step in the move towards making the Community concerned with developments which can be of direct benefit to people whether they live in West Bromwich or Westphalia. However, those policies must be relevant to the daily lives and needs of our people, otherwise they have little importance.
In looking at it from the point of view of those applying for assistance from the Social Fund, the procedure seems to be unnecessarily long drawn out and to contain a great deal of red tape, for not only must projects be channelled through the appropriate Government Department but they must have the blessing and endorsement of that Department before they can be considered for assistance by the Commission.
In his earlier remarks my right hon. Friend said—I think I quote him correctly—that he would like to see more accountability by Community institutions to those whom they serve. I agree with him. If we mean to make the Community a living entity and to involve our society directly in its activities, there must be direct communication between the people and organisations in the regions and the Commission itself. I recognise that Government Departments, of whatever political view, like to exercise authority. However, surely methods can be found of encouraging local authorities, regional development bodies and registered charities to have direct communication with the appropriate Regional and Social Fund Committees within the Commission in such a way that they present and argue their own case. That is one method of achieving greater accountability by the Community to those whom it serves.
I respect your comments Mr. Speaker, about time, and, therefore, I shall turn to the stocktaking of the common agricultural policy. There have been many debates in this House and in other places about agriculture and the technicalities of the common agricultural policy. However, few debates seem to approach the 1768 subject from the consumer's point of view. Even so, one simple fact we might bear in mind is that while engineers, postmen, clerks and politicians make up percentages of the Community, the consumers form 100 per cent. of the Community. Within the Community consumer involvement is relatively new and pathetically inadequate.
The Consumer Consultative Committee was established a little more than 12 months ago. Its task is to provide the Commission with information either on its own initiative or at the request of the Commission, but it has no influence whatever on decision-making. It cannot mount a pressure group or run a publicity campaign against decisions taken. That has to be done by associations within the member States. Further, the Economic and Social Committee is the instrument by which consumers can vent their concern about decisions, but they can do so only after decisions have been made. Moreover, that Committee has only six consumer representatives out of a total membership of about 150.
The consumer involvement is no longer limited to questions of hygiene and the quality of food. Recently my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection participated for the first time—I hope it will not be the last—in a meeting of Agricultural Ministers. I suggested in the European Parliament that the appointment of such Ministers should be made by other member States in the hope of increasing participation at this level.
There is need for much greater flexibility. We have recently seen a certain amount of shift in the orientation of the common agricultural policy from a policy which had as its prime purpose the protection of the producer to one which took a more balanced view of the interests of the consumer. I wish to see that shift continue so that consumers can become involved in the decision-making concerning food production targets, storage policy, the cost of such a policy and the priority of recipients when it comes to the disposal of surpluses. That is most important. In other words, there should be opportunity to participate at all levels.
The White Paper clearly states that any scheme for direct elections would require an Act of this Parliament, and that is 1769 absolutely right. Indeed, I have no quarrel with that. However, I must be honest and say that in my view the day will come when we shall have direct elections. It is for that reason that I have sought, by my remarks, a greater involvement for our people—in whatever walk of life they may be—in the institutions of the Community. I welcome the debate as a means of attempting to find practical solutions to the real problems within our Community and our growing relationships with those outside.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
It was good to hear from the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) the authentic note of internationalism. It is a note that we do not hear as often as we should like from the Labour Party. I had supposed that I should see upon the Order Paper in this House, especially from those hon. Members who have been complaining loudly about the way that the Chrysler Corporation is treating its workers in this country, a well-supported motion regretting the decision of the nationally owned British Leyland Company to dismiss its Italian workers in the Innocenti works in Italy.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) laid claim—I fully respect his claim—to be an internationalist and said that those who opposed British membership of the Community during the campaign did so on international grounds. However, I wonder whether he would feel able to sustain that line in view of the crude appeal to internationalism which was made by most Labour anti-Marketeers during the referendum campaign, and most notably by the then Secretary of State for Trade, who conducted a very able campaign against British membership of the EEC based solely on appeals to British internationalism.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett rose—
§ Sir A. Meyer
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I want to be brief. I have not in any way traduced what he said. I think it better that I should go on and complete my speech.
§ Sir A. Meyer
No. My hon. Friend has already had a very long innings, and enough is enough.
If internationalism no longer constitutes a prime motor in the Labour Party, the one doctrine to which it attaches overriding importance is that of the mandate. If ever a Government and party had a mandate, it was—unlike the 28 per cent. of electors who put this Government into office—the 67 per cent. who voted "Yes" to Britain remaining within the Community. I do not claim that that 67 per cent. constituted a mandate for Britain to participate in a fully federal Europe, though I make no secret of the fact that that is what I would like to see. But that 67 per cent. constituted an overwhelming mandate for Britain to play a constructive part in the European Community of which we are now a permament member.
After the humiliating fiasco of the British demand for separate representation at the oil talks—having tabled a motion at an early stage deploring that demand, I feel qualified to say that—it is not now easy to maintain that Her Majesty's Government are playing a constructive role. There is certainly nothing in the dismally boring document before us for today's debate to contradict the overwheming impression of still-reluctant Members being dragged to the European table by the overwhelming vote of the people and threatening to kick the table over if they do not get what they want.
By insisting, as we brutally do, on getting every one of our short-term interests, we imperil our ability to defend our long-term interests. That was only too evident over the oil business. I submit that it is equally evident in the attitude which the Government have adopted towards the aircraft industry. If ever there was an insistence on the long-term interests of this country coinciding with European requirements, the aircraft industry provided it. Whereas a nationalist British Aircraft Corporation cannot conceivably survive in the conditions of the worldwide aircaft industry of today, there is manifestly an opportunity for a Europe-based aircraft industry to compete on reasonably level terms with the American giants. By nationalising the aircraft industry on a purely British basis, the Government have tragically missed a European opportunity.
1771 As I said, by insisting on our short-term interests we imperil our long-term interests, which are to secure a Community with true democratic control and prosperity fairly spread throughout the whole area.
I speak with deep feeling on this matter as the representative of an area where unemployment is getting out of control, which is equipped with out-of-date industries, and badly needs a major expansion of the Community's regional aid programme.
I observe the Government forfeiting their chance of securing a better regional aid programme and a common agricultural policy better adapted to the needs of our people because of their insistence on other purely short-term advantages, thereby debarring themselves from working in partnership with either the French or the Germans to secure our long-term interests.
If Ministers simply cannot nerve themselves to explain to the electors the need for some kind of sacrifice of short-term interests to preserve our long-term abiding interests, what conceivable pretext can they offer for not making a contribution to the one area where every other European country confidently expected Britain to make a major contribution and where no material sacrifice whatever is called for—namely, democratic control over the Community's institutions? I simply do not understand what is holding the Government back. No British interests are at stake here. There is just the natural reluctance—the immobility which is built into all political institutions—to face issues.
On Wednesday last week I put down a Question to the Foreign Secretary—it was not reached; it received a Written Answer—askingwhat proposals have been put forward by Her Majesty's Government for improving democratic control of the institutions of the EEC?The Answer was:Her Majesty's Government are seeking to improve financial control in the Community".As I understand it, the main object of improving financial control is to use it as a means of gaining influence over the evolution of policies.
1772 The reply continued:and have proposed that the European Assembly should play a more active and effective role."—[Official Report. 26th November 1975; Vol. 901, c. 206.]Yet they are not prepared to take active steps to equip the Assembly to play that kind of rôle.
I do not want to appear to be concentrating my fire on the Minister of State. I know that nobody more than he has fought for the European cause within the Department. We on this side admire his staunchness in this cause under fire from both sides. I hope that he will recognise that, in appearing to attack him, I am in fact attacking the Prime Minister for his continued insistence on making concessions to an anti-European extreme Left element which has lost all credibility in this House and in the country. If the Prime Minister would at least stand up and proclaim what he must by now believe—that Britain's future lies in making a positive contribution to a living European Community—I believe that he would be astounded by the response from both sides of this House and throughout the country.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I shall refer to one or two of the points that the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) has touched on, but I want to make some general points before doing that.
If there is one thing on which we can all agree it is that in the last 30 years, since the end of the war, successive national Governments of all political persuasions have signally failed to solve our problems in isolation from the rest of Europe or the rest of the world. At the same time, we can say that in the last 20 years, whenever either of the major political parties, be it the Labour Party or the Tory Party, has obtained power, it has seen solutions to our problems lying in entry to a wider community. The Labour Government did so between 1964 and 1970. The previous Conservative Government tried before then, and the succeeding Conservative Government, from 1970 to 1974, got us into Europe. The Labour Government decided, by means of a referendum, to stay in.
Therefore, one can assume that when politicians in this country are faced with the realities of power, they understand 1773 better that the only solution to solving our problems, be they economic, social, or whatever, is to get into a bigger context.
The bigger context that we had immediately available to us was, first, EFTA. I remember the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) negotiating EFTA at that time. I think I am right in that recollection. That was a precursor to entry into the European Community. That has now occurred.
In historical perspective it is much too early to ascertain whether that judgment was right or wrong. All I am prepared to say at present is that both major political parties have sought this as a means of helping to solve the problems which we could not solve in national isolation. It may well prove that we were wrong in that decision. It is much too early to judge.
Certainly as a relatively new member of the European Parliament, one's ideology and political philosophy is strained a little when one sees that Parliament in practice. Nevertheless, here we have what I think is most inspiring about it—and there is not very much—namely, the ability to talk to politicians from Italy, Germany, France, Denmark, Holland and even Luxembourg, and to understand what they are driving at.
Every one of those countries was occupied during the war. They are inspired by an idealism that is very often singularly absent from our talks. In this context we talk too much about what we shall get out of the EEC rather than what we can put into it. We talk in terms of material things rather than in terms of preventing another world war. What does it matter if the price of butter or the cost of living rises by 20 per cent. between now and 1976 if by keeping within this association, allowing it to evolve and playing our part in its evolution, we prevent the recurrence of world war? That seems to be the essence of our internationalism, to which I hope every hon. Member subscribes.
In recent months Britain has been cast as the nigger in the European woodpile. We have been accused of lack of cooperation on the question of oil and on other matters, such as direct elections. There is an arguable position for our Government to take up. We have no need 1774 to be apologetic about these things. The other national States are still basically national States. They have a degree of idealism. However, when it came to the point, the French did not hesitate to take measures to protect their wine industry from cheap Italian wine, and the French have been taken to court on that account. One can cite other instances where German, French, Italian or British national interests have conflicted with the grander European concept and where the national interest has prevailed.
That will happen for a long time. We must simply accept that it will happen as the Community evolves. In the same way, in this House the Scottish National Party and some Welsh Members advocate, quite properly and sincerely from their point of view, their own nationalistic aspirations. They are perfectly entitled to do that. I do not think that their separation will solve anything for them in the United Kingdom context.
§ Mr. Reid rose—
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman made his speech and walked out. He has only just returned to the Chamber. A members of his party should have been present—the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), who represents his party in Europe. The hon. Gentleman talked about participation. The least that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn might have done would be to put in a courtesy appearance for the debate. She has been singularly absent throughout. She might have thought fit to justify her vote in support of General Franco and his Fascist regime. If the hon. Gentleman wants facts, let me tell him that that is what is happening in Europe.
That brings me directly to a point to which I wanted to refer—the triviality of so much of what takes place in the Assembly. I have now been there for three or four months and I can recall only three or four memorable debates. The first took place when we had hardly got there, and that was a debate on political union. Then there was a debate on the oil crisis, involving my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We had another debate on Spain. Those were about the only debates of real substance. The other debates have been what we would call statutory instrument debates. However, there is no reason why we should not 1775 put this matter right, and why the Assembly should not evolve into something better.
That brings me directly to the point raised by the hon. Member for Flint, West about the Prime Minister's speech—a speech that had very little coverage in this country—on the inauguration of a public accounts committee in Europe. The implications of that speech were very great. The Prime Minister was spelling out, in his own inimitable way, the fact that we were in Europe to stay, because he wanted to propose some machinery to control the vast expenditure that takes place in the Community, not least—indeed, in too large a measure—on the common agricultural policy, over which we as parliamentarians have no control whatever, either here or in Europe.
The Prime Minister indicated to me, by that speech, that he was intending to raise this question at the summit conference in Rome, which ended yesterday. I should like the Minister who is to reply to the debate to indicate whether the Prime Minister raised this question, particularly with the Germans, because I think that this matter was initiated by the German Federal Chancellor. Will the Minister indicate what response the Prime Minister got on this matter? That seems to be singularly important. It is extremely important from our point of view to get, in the Community, the kind of control of public expenditure which we have here—although recent revelations may suggest that we are not all that good at it, either. At any rate, over about 100 years we have built up a system that is as good as any in the world, and probably better than most. That is all that one can say for it. However, one can learn and develop that kind of control in Europe, as we have developed it for over a century here.
Similary, several hon. Members have spoken as if it were somehow obscene or undesirable to pursue the concept of a European regional policy. I remember that when the present Secretary of State for Energy was very much a pro-European he said that the only way in which one can protect the little man from the big multinational company is to provide a big multinational political counterpart. That argument is as pertinent today 1776 as it was then. If we are to prevent the big multinational companies from blackmailing small national States—be it Scotland, England, Wales, Holland, Denmark, or any other—we must, by having a common regional policy in Europe, prevent them from playing the one off against the other.
At a recent meeting of the Regional Policy Committee, of which I am a member, I persuaded the Committee to visit Scotland and Lancashire. Its members will be coming in the spring of next year. This is part of the educative process. Ordinary men and women in this country are affected, and will continue to be affected, by decisions taken in Europe—not in Edinburgh or Westminster, but in Brussels. That being so, we had better have adequate representation in Brussels before these decisions are taken and not afterwards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), who has had to leave the Chamber owing to a previous engagement, is strongly in favour of a common energy policy in Europe. We shall be the greatest energy producers in the Community. The coal reserves in England are vastly greater than the oil reserves found in Scotland, but together they put us in a very powerful position to model the common energy policy in Europe. That is how we should be thinking. We should not be wanting to hold on to the oil that happens to be near our coast, or the coal that happens to be under our county, and saying "To hell with the rest of the Community". That is counter to the ideals that hon. Members on this side and, I presume, some hon. Members opposite hold dear.
Direct elections are a highly desirable, democratic procedure but the nuts and bolts of the system will be extremely difficult to work out. It is no good pretending that this can be done overnight. One of the great attributes of our democratic system is the fairly close relationship between an hon. Member and his electors. In a European Parliament there would be, perhaps, five members representing the whole of Scotland, and it would be very difficult to maintain this relationship. On the question of the timetable, I do not think that our European partners understand the tremendous constitutional implications of the devolution White Paper, the debates on which we 1777 are soon to embark upon. That will be the biggest constitutional upheaval in this country for hundreds of years and it will take a long time to get it through the House. It is bound to make the question of direct elections in Europe that much more difficult to work out.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) talked about the European passport as if it was something terrible. I have one British and one European passport in my pocket. I do not give a damn if I lose the British passport. It means not very much to me. I support the sentiments expressed by Ernest Bevin, as Foreign Secretary, in 1946, when he looked forward to the day when he could go from Victoria Station to anywhere in the world without a passport. The new European passport is a small step in that direction. They can have my British passport back in Petty France any time they like. I hope that this is the approach that the House will take during the next generation. We are building for our children and their children. It is no good continuing to fight the pre-referendum campaign. Whether we like it or not, the British people have decided that we must solve our problems in a bigger political and economic context than we have tried so far. That was the clear message they gave us, and we would be denying their faith if we sought to undo what they decided should be done.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
I apologise for the fact that, for unavoidable reasons, I had to miss the first part of this debate. I wish to look at the implications of EEC membership on Wales over the period covered in the White Paper. In the referendum campaign, my party opposed continued membership, but now that the result in Wales is quite clear and the people in Wales have shown that they wish to remain part of the EEC, we have accepted that decision and its implications and are now concentrating on ensuring for Wales the fullest possible role in the Community while we remain part of that institution.
We are looking for our own place at the top table of the Community, our own team on the Council of Ministers, our own guaranteed numbers in the European Parliament on the same formula as Denmark and Ireland, our own representa- 1778 tives on important committees like that dealing with social and economic matters, and our own Commissioners.
The future structure of Europe is very much under debate now, and this is touched on in several parts of the White Paper and has been referred to in a number of speeches. Much of the discussion revolves around various models—whether Europe should be a unitary centralised State or a decentralised State which might be termed federal or confederal in nature. If the European State is to be viable it must lead to the break-up of 19th century States which were developed for different purposes in a different age and cannot be sustained in the future.
The other side of the same coin is the emergence of Wales and Scotland as self-governing communities in the EEC existing side by side with a developed structure on a European level. Some people say this is a contradiction. I do not believe it is. I think it is inevitable. If Europe is to have stability in future there must be a growing role for the natural communities within the EEC.
The structure of the future of Europe will depend, to a large extent, on the possibility of direct elections to the European Parliament. My party has grave fears about these elections. We acknowledge the superficial democracy attached to the argument, but we have had 36 hon. Members representing Wales in this Chamber for many years, and with 600 other hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom there have been occasions when, despite the fact that all Welsh Members were united, they were thwarted by the majority here. One example was the drowning of the Tryweryn Valley and the village of A Capel Celyn in Merioneth.
Having direct elections to the European Parliament will not necessarily give the Community democratic control over its future. Dictatorship by a 51 per cent. of a 49 per cent. is not necessarily democracy and in any structure for Europe there must be the right for communities which will be in a minority within the greater Europe to have safeguards to ensure that their own interests are protected to the maximum possible extent. Having four Welsh Members in the European Parliament will not be enough to safeguard these interests. If 1779 there is an elected European Parliament it should have transferred to it the minimum of powers, and only those powers which are essential for co-ordination on a European level. We believe that it is necessary for that Parliament to act with the concurrence and agreement of all the national Parliaments and not to overrule them. There is a need for a weighting in favour of the smaller countries, a contentious issue in mainland Europe, and it may be necessary to develop a second Chamber at a different level, a sort of House of Representatives, where the individual communities could have direct representation in order to counter-balance the effects of population within the directly elected model.
We gave evidence to Mr. Tindemans on his visit to the United Kingdom earlier this year. It was on 2nd July that we outlined our proposals to him in Cardiff. We said that we saw the model of Europe developing as a confederal one. We said:Plaid Cymru feels strongly that there exists a positive alternative to the development of another centralised state in Western Europe. That alternative is to create a partnership of self-governing European nations, in no way subordinate to one another. This partnership could take the form of a European Confederation whose purpose would be to maintain free trade and encourage economic and cultural development throughout the Community, and the co-ordination of effective regional policies to counter-balance adverse effects of free trade.So in criticising some possible developments within the EEC we do not want to give the impression that we are against any development of the European model.
Let me turn now to the relationship of the Welsh Assembly to the Community institutions. We deplore that in the document being discussed today the summary showed, in dealing with representation from Westminster and from the British Government at meetings of the Council of Ministers in Europe, that of the 54 meetings not one has been attended by a representative of the Welsh Office. There have been representations on odd occasions from Scotland, but never from Wales, and many of the subjects have been of vital importance to Wales. The Welsh Assembly must have the right to representation in the deputations and teams going on behalf of the United King- 1780 dom during that period before we in Wales assume the full right to determine our own future.
We need the right for the Welsh Assembly to have access to the European Investment Bank. Many projects will need to be developed in Wales which are essential to the economic infrastructure and which have a European dimension. For example, there is the A5 road, the artery linking Ireland through to continental Europe. Roads will come under our own National Assembly, but there will be no provision, according to last week's White Paper, for the Assembly to have direct access to the European Investment Bank and the EEC institutions. It is a little strange in view of last week's White Paper to read the speech by the Foreign Secretary which is outlined on page 20, in which he said:I cannot promise we shall be able to put forward an answerthat is in relation to the electionsby July. Matters are complicated by the devolution of powers to Scotland and to Wales and I cannot promise…an early reply, but I do not intend to hold this up.I cannot see, with the White Paper which has promised us no right of access to the EEC, how this topic could have crept into the discussion unless at some stage we were to have had that right, but that it was subsequently cancelled.
We hope that in the long-term development of the EEC there will be room for the emergence of natural communities. There are many such groups in Europe, some of them hitting the headlines, such as the Basques, the Bretons, the Flemish and the Bavarians, all of whom may have a réle to play in the future European structure. Take the situation in France, for example. There is at present growing free movement of people between all the EEC countries. In view of that, it is essential to harmonise much more on elementary human justice and human rights than harmonising on the size of eggs. We should, therefore, send to France the message that we deplore the imprisonment of Yann Fouéré and that we disagree with the right to hold him for six months without trial. This is indefensible, and if we are part of the EEC structure side by side with the French Government, we have the right to point out that they have their obligations too. If M. Giscard 1781 d'Estaing comes to the United Kingdom in the next few months I hope that we shall make clear to him the way in which we hold his Government in contempt for such action.
The situation in Spain, with the absence of democratic institutions, leads one to the view that the time is far from ripe for that country to take its place within the EEC. There must be a much greater development of freedom there. The time may be ripe for those actively engaged in EEC bodies to press for a European charter of rights for ethnic communities. It is time for someone to take a lead in this matter.
I turn now to regional policy. Given the ravages of the free movement of capital and trade in the EEC, there is every danger of things getting out of hand. There is a growing disparity between the poorer and richer regions within the EEC. There is a fund of £150 million over three years to deal with regional development. That is chicken-feed. The Industry Act 1972 gave Wales in the last financial year £40 million and more, which is considerably more than we shall get from the EEC fund. Even so, that £40 million was nothing like sufficient to overcome our problems. We need a much stronger policy of regional redistribution if we are to find an effective answer.
Take the old county of Caernarvonshire, where the personal income per capita in 1972 was only 55 per cent. of the United Kingdom level. I wonder whether EEC policies will have any significant effect on that, or whether they will have the effect we have seen in the last few weeks in my home town of Caernarvon, where one factory has closed down because its products can be made more economically in Belgium. If there is to be a meaningful EEC regional policy, it must be stronger than the existing policy.
We need a guarantee that EEC funds will be additional to funds channelled by the Government to regional development, and that the money will not pass from one pocket to another without giving additional benefit to areas like Wales. There must be regional plans throughout the EEC, fitting into a regional category. This is essential if regional disparities are to be minimised. The EEC must 1782 also be much more responsive to the problems of areas like Wales, to the problems of the steel industry, agriculture and coal, which are in danger of being adversely affected rather than improved by the EEC.
My hon. Friends and I regard monetary union with great fear. The expereince suffered by Denmark, which has stoked up its unemployment in an attempt to keep its currency within the "snake" under pressure from Germany, is an example of why we should keep as clear of monetary union as we can. There may be an argument for more currencies rather than fewer in order to provide greater flexibility within the EEC.
There is one reference in the document to the VAT situation. Perhaps I may issue a warning here. If VAT is put on food and if more rates are introduced there could well be a reaction from people in Wales and, I suspect, from elsewhere in these islands. The Government must bear that in mind.
Wales is a historic European nation. It is European by language and culture as well as by religion. At many times in our history we have been European in trade as well. Over the next few years we shall have a full measure of self-government. As the EEC is now in the melting pot, I put it to the Government that they should let the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies have links from the start with EEC bodies so that when we become fully self-governing countries, and if our people wish us to stay within the European Economic Community, we shall have a firm footing on which to build.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), the spokesman for Plaid Cymru, at least endorsed the central idea of Wales being a member of the Community. I assume, by extension, that he endorses the idea of the United Kingdom being a member. I am sure that all hon. Member will welcome that statement. He mentioned difficulties that might be particular to Wales in the future. Other hon. Members have alluded to and described difficulties that apply to the whole country.
Whatever future divisions or semi-divisionalisations may grow up in this 1783 country, depending on how the devolution proposals develop, the more I think about it the more I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) that devolution will make European direct elections that much more difficult to carry out within a certain period of time. There are many other reasons why I, as an English Member, am anxious about some of the putative implications of the devolution exercise, especially as it affects Scotland and, to a lesser extent, Wales.
As an hon. Member who has spoken in favour of direct elections, I hope that the natural and understandable anxieties of the hon. Member for Fife, Central will not materialise, because there will be a will in the House and in the British body politic to prevent that occurring.
Undoubtedly many hon. Members wish to refer to the many subjects mentioned in the White Paper. However, time prevents that and there are still hon. Members who wish to speak, so I shall concentrate on two topics mentioned in the White Paper and on one topic that is outside it, in the overall context of the future development of Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) asked why we were so scared of European direct elections. I strongly agree with him. Just what is it that a combination of little Englanders and other Labour Members, but not those who have spoken recently, are anxious about—the idea of direct elections per se?
All the ensuing developments will take place after those direct elections have occurred for the first time. There is no chance that any institutional development in the European Parliament can occur before, partly because of the time period envisaged and partly, but more importantly, because of the way in which the Council of Ministers will, as far as one can assess, encourage the idea of direct elections taking place in or after 1978, under the official formula, with Great Britain—I do not know whether the summit statement is accurate or not—apparently allowed to have a special timetable of its own, together with Denmark. We shall need to examine that in greater detail later on. However, in so doing the quid pro quo on the Council's part will be that the examination, development 1784 and construction of those future increased powers for the European Parliament will take place after the first set of direct elections.
As more than a reasonably enthusiastic European, I do not object to that principle. It is right for us to get going with the first set of direct elections at the outset, and then for that directly-elected Parliament—with the confidence and self-assurance that can come only from the dramatic and exciting new universal suffrage that will emanate from the entire European Community—to take a lead as a new body in a dramatic historical context and at the same time develop its own powers. It is at that subsequent stage, which may be in the early 1980s, that the Council of Ministers will presumably engage upon a tussle and conflict with the new institution about just how legislative and, indeed, executive—that is very important—powers will be shared out in this dramatic and unique new venture.
Everyone tends to make the basic mistake of assuming that a developing and dynamic set of European institutions—a unique, new community which is unlike any other in the world—can be compared with what has happened elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) said that in due course it would veer towards federalism. That is complete nonsense. To suggest that it will become federalist in due course is a massive piece of self-deception, unless, of course, the will is there so to develop.
This is a new construction. At least this time when the Minister of State spoke, not only did he repeat the pretty strong assertions that were made last week in Community statements by the Government that direct elections were a Treaty commitment; he went further and reinforced that commitment. He implied that whereas previously he had said that it would take 10 years to have direct elections, because the organisation was so complicated—he said that they might start in 1978–79—now it would be nice to start in 1978, the target date, if possible. I want the Government to say more than that. I want them to say that they will start the constitutional, physical and other preparations immediately, so that at long last this exercise can commence.
It is not right for the United Kingdom to establish a separate timetable of its 1785 own, partly because, in practical terms, it would be unworkable and at the very least wholly undesirable in the context of what the European Parliament has proposed about the modalities of direct elections, and partly because it would be, for our part, a breach of faith in the wider European context in terms of the philosophy of Europe and the will of the other member States to go ahead, apparently without undue delay, in accordance with the summit target.
Let us have an early debate about direct elections to the European Parliament and all those aspects contained within that complicated idea. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President has definitely promised one. Let us go beyond that and start the Boundaries Commission exercise. At least let there be a provisional exercise to consider, with computer assistance—which nowadays is inevitable—just how those European constituencies should be constructed. According to the draft convention presented to the European Parliament earlier this year we shall have 67 seats, but if the majority of hon. Members deem another number to be suitable, so be it. A vast amount of work has to be done, and that is why it should be started now.
There is also the constitutional aspect to be considered. The treaty commitment idea can be argued cleverly by lawyers on both sides. I happen to believe in that idea and argue that it was known before the referendum and accepted as a fundamental commitment, and that therefore, we should proceed. However, there are many ways in which this is handled by this national legislature. It may need a new treaty dealing with direct elections, as I believe some experts in the Foreign Service believe. It may need just a substantial piece of legislation in this House, or a less substantial piece of legislation, not quite, but almost, approaching merely technical amendment to the Representation of the People Act, the electoral disqualification Acts and so on.
Whatever the ranges or the sum total of those arguments by both sides, let us make a start now. If we do not, we shall regret it later. If we get off to a bad start on that score, it could affect the atmospherics of that first directly-elected Parliament, or at least the British contingent in it, in a way that I would be extremely loth to see.
1786 Therefore, pragmatically and reasonably, without being excessively controversial or dangerous, one could assume that fairly soon after those elections the new European Parliament, meeting, I imagine, in continuous session and—let us be frank about these crude matters—with its members presumably drawing a reasonable international salary, would not wish to be a debating chamber or a continuous seminar on the virtues of titanium dioxide pollution control, which all too often tends to be a feature of the European Parliament.
Worthy and honourable though that may be, let the Parliament politicise itself in the real party-political structure sense. If the energy and will is there, if the educational effort prior to the elections has been substantial, and if the Government machine in the proper sense of the term has been supporting all that effort to explain and to inform the public, the public will identify much more quickly with their new European members of Parliament and with their European constituency, even if it be a constituency of 500,000 or 600,000. The United States does it on that scale, though, admittedly, after a much longer history, and there is no reason why the British, one of the most sophisticated political publics, should not grasp the idea. We do them a disservice by suggesting how complicated it will be for them, and how remote, that we shall have only a 15 per cent. total turnout, and so on. I do not believe that it will be so if the work is done now.
I repeat my hope that we shall not be pusillanimous in our approach to what happens between now and those first elections, and in what we do in our procedures here. Let us think again about the way in which the House organises its own scrutinising procedure for European instruments—so often called secondary legislation, and referred to as such in the White Paper, yet in most cases, as we all know, in fact primary legislative instruments emanating from the Commission on behalf of the Council of Ministers.
This subject is referred to, albeit briefly, in the White Paper, yet it is, I think, one of the most important thematic elements for the House to consider in terms of its existence as a national Parliament in the EEC context. Today is a 1787 historic day, in the sense that our new European Committee has started to function along the Committee Corridor, under the able chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). It considered an esoteric—indeed, incomprehensible—subject, so it was a very calm Committee with no fireworks and no trouble. But I do not think that that Committee will continue to be trouble-free for long, unless the Government reconsider the importance of what was pressed on them from both sides last week and the week before, namely, that it will be essential for that Committee to be empowered to make substantive motions and amending motions in due course if our scrutiny procedure is to be realistic.
I turn now to a matter that is not referred to in the White Paper, but I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will nevertheless, in all justice, accept that I am not out of order. There is a central issue which is not really being debated in the European Council—perhaps I am mistaken there, and have not properly understood the accounts, and we have yet to hear from the Prime Minister—in the European Parliament or in the national Parliaments. Perhaps this lack of debate stems from the gigantic nature of the subject, or perhaps we do not discuss it because we are all immensely depressed.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said that the European Community had gone too slowly for his liking, that it had lost the will and basic native energy to proceed as he wishes, and that he hoped that that energy would return. That brings me to the central point that I wish to make—that until the European Committee seizes on the seemingly intractable problem of restoring a rate of economic growth to the whole of the EEC, including the outlying areas to which the hon. Member for Caernarvon referred, the political will of the Community, in the fullest sense, will not return.
We may institute sophisticated propping-up devices for outlying regions, and so on—I do not use that adjective in any perjorative sense—but that will be no substitute for the Community saying that 1788 part of its ideology, transcending narrower party-political viewpoints, has been, and has been acknowledged by all its citizens to be, the establishment of an area of prosperity and of regular expansion. Other industrialised countries have adopted the same kind of approach, and so have their citizens. The European Community must engage itself on that task.
I make no narrow party point when I say that until we are all collectively, and primarily in the European Parliament—perhaps that is the most appropriate place—engaged on this task, bearing in mind the awful problems involved, true progress and the real will to achieve it will not return. We know that European industry as a whole is running far below capacity, and far below the likely resurgence of putative future consumer demand and demand as a whole. The public sectors—not only in this country, although we are the worst example—are regarded at least by many people as too large in relation to total resources.
The problem of returning to a growth path for the Community is colossal. I know that it is easy and glib for me to say that in my closing sentences, but that is the key, and it all fits in with future political developments and the future assurance of the Community. As the hon. Member for Fife, Central said, there is an inclination on the part of one country to cling on to some national asset and be almost loth to discuss it with the other member States. All these things fit into that gross and tangible lack of confidence which all of us feel as a result of—I was about to say "the deep economic crisis" in Europe, but I think that "deepening economic crisis" would be more accurate.
There is, therefore, an obligation on politicians throughout the Community as well as here, which we should start to take on now. It will fit in very well with the time scale for direct elections.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. John Evans (Newtown)
As one of the new members of the European Parliament, I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, although I have thought it a curious debate in many ways since those of us who have spoken are members of the European Parliament. Perhaps we should have got together. We 1789 could have had a discussion in the aeroplane taking us to the European Parliament next week, when we could have debated the various issues which the House is debating today. It does not follow from that, however, that there is no interest in the House or in the country in what the future holds for Britain and for our society in Europe.
I am a new member in the sense of being a new Member of Parliament and also being the only one among our 1974 intake to go to the European Parliament. What struck me most forcibly when I first arrived in that building at Strasbourg was the language problem, for I speak only English. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) spoke of how wonderful it was to be able to talk to an Italian, a Dutchman, a Dane, a German or a Frenchman. Indeed it is, if the other individual speaks one's own language or if an interpreter is handy.
In my view, the time has come to do something about a common language. Indeed, that time may well be long past, I feel that the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament should discuss the language question. There should have been agreement on a common European language some time ago. Once that had been agreed, every nation which did not speak that common language would have adopted it in its education programme as the second language for its children to be taught.
We must not forget that, although we talk about bringing nations together, it is essential that we bring people together, and if people cannot speak to one another in the same language they will never understand one another. This is an important question to be borne in mind in all our European debates.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) is in a wonderful position in this respect since she speaks four or five languages and is able to converse freely and fluently with almost any member of the European Parliament. For my part, however, unless I have an interpreter I am lucky if I can speak to 20 per cent.—and that is discounting the British delegation.
§ Mr. Evans
Most of the Welsh speak English.
The other depressing experience—it still depresses me—was to see the enormous torrent of documents which descends upon us from the European Parliament. An incredible amount of "bumph" is sent to us on almost every subject which the Commission or the parliamentarians discuss. I used to wonder how many trees were chopped down to make all the paper. I am beginning to wonder now how many forests are being chopped down.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central said earlier, it is essential that we sort out our priorities in the European Parliament, and especially the various topics that we choose to discuss. Some of the topics which we spend our time discussing in the European Parliament are such that I doubt whether we could get half a dozen Members to serve on a Statutory Instruments Committee to consider them. It is essential that that matter is sorted out very quickly if the Parliament is to have any credibility.
Another important matter is that we cannot agree on a common site for the European Parliament. At enormous expense the Parliament moves on alternate months from Strasbourg to Luxembourg. The staff has to lug huge boxes, packed with documents between the two cities. To compound the problem, when we have our committee meetings we invariably hold them in Brussels. Far from being an organisation that can reach unanimity on many subjects, we cannot reach unanimity on a site.
Of course, that has nothing to do with the British. The Conservative Government decided to go to the Parliament two years ago and the British Labour delegaation decided to join six months ago. The European Parliament has been in existence for about 17 years. From what I am led to believe, it is still no nearer a solution as to where the Parliament should be sited.
I have no intention of continuing the referendum debate, but I am bound to say that during the referendum campaign some of us were querying the claims that there were huge economic advantages to Britain and scarce export orders to be won if Britain remained within the EEC. Some of us had the 1791 temerity to suggest that the EEC was running out of economic steam. I hope that that is not the case and that things will pick up. However, we must bear in mind that there are now about 5 million unemployed persons within the EEC. In Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom there are 1 million unemployed. In Denmark 9 per cent. of the work force is unemployed. The exception is Luxembourg, which with about 400,000 people is approximately the same size as Wigan, one of my metropolitan districts. There is about 0.15 per cent. unemployment in Luxembourg, but I hardly think that we can regard Luxembourg as a nation in the true sense of the word.
We have had a major debate and a major argument about energy. I am bound to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs that some of us are very disappointed with the actions of our leadership. Some of us fought very hard in the European Parliament, meeting a considerable degree of hostility from the Europeans, in defending the British position. Those who are prepared to gird their loins to defend the British position in anticipation of the great arguments which will come about on transport—for example, tachographs and the 8-hour day—and other policies involving the Environment Committee, such as environmental and pollution problems in the rivers, wonder whether the Government will once again remove themselves from the firing line when the first shots are fired. We wonder whether the statements made by our leaders bear credibility. It seems that when the first shots of anger are fired it is us who are left in the firing line.
When we meet our Socialist colleagues in Europe next week I am certain that they will have one or two words to say about the British position which we stoutly defended only a couple of months ago.
One or two of the statements that have been made in attacking the Government's position, and particularly by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), should be set against the nationalistic position taken by the Germans, the French and the Italians. It would do the hon. Gentleman a considerable amount 1792 of good to attend the European Parliament and to observe those countries adopt their national positions.
One of the first things I noticed when we attended our first European Parliament, when the wine debate was held, was the amazing sight of the Italian Communist and Italian Christian Democrats standing shoulder to shoulder in defending the Italian position. On many matters there will be a British position. I have no doubt that in the months that lie ahead the British Labour delegation and the British Conservative delegation will move closer together on some issues in defending the British position.
In the early days it struck me forcibly that those of us who bore the tag "anti-Marketeer" around our necks were labelled chauvinists when defending the British position as we saw it, whereas other countries would put their hands on their hearts and say "We are wonderful Europeans". They say that they believe in the European ideal when taking a blatantly nationalistic view. That is true particularly of the French and the Italians.
I am opposed to direct elections by 1978. I have no wish to go into the legalistic details which were dealt with so admirably by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). I wish to deal with the practicalities. We are told that we must have direct elections, but why must we have them? Who is to suggest that democracy is maintained because once every four years, as is suggested, or five years people put a cross on a piece of paper? I do not think for one moment that that is democracy.
I remind those who argue for direct elections that, strange as it may seem, every other delegation in the European Parliament, with the exception of the British, has been elected, whereas in our delegation we have representatives of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party and Members from another place who have been elected by no one and are responsible to no one.
Those of us who are in this House are democrats. We have been directly elected by our people. I suggest that we are still capable of following the democratic ideal without direct elections. In 1793 one respect I am a microcosm of what an official European MP might be because of the hideous local government reorganisation disaster which hit Great Britain, and particularly my constituency. I have to deal with no fewer than three county councils, four district councils and a new town. I represent about 100,000 people.
I think I am right in saying that British Members of Parliament who were members of the European Parliament would, in effect, have to represent approximately 500,000 people. I have an enormous job dealing with the local authorities in my area. Anyone who was elected from my part of the world would have Lancashire added to his list and probably one or two extra district councils.
I have talked to many people about direct elections. The Socialist rapporteur, Mr. Patijn, is very keen on the subject and has produced an excellent report, saying "Let us have direct elections; that will make us more democratic and will mean more power." That is to beg the question. The European Commission is playing politics. It has watched the Council of Ministers take away so many of its powers over the past few years that it is attempting to use the European Parliament to get back power from the Council of Ministers. No one will ever give it any powers. The powers will have to be evolved.
We have discussed today areas in which Parliament itself will obtain powers, and I suggest that that is the correct way to approach elections. Let the institution grow first and let the people know what the institution is about. Having spent three years as a full-time agent, I know the practicalities of politics and elections in this country, but not in other countries. I know that, between General Elections, at local government elections the British people have an opportunity to vote against the Government. Those who bother to turn out take that opportunity to show their displeasure of the Government. Hundreds of councillors of all parties have been hounded out of office because of the unpopularity of the Whitehall Government. We all know about that, and we know how unfair it is. Far from strengthening the European ideal, far from giving credence and power to the European Parliament if, as a result of 1794 direct elections, the members of the European Parliament are in opposition to their national Governments, the Council of Ministers will take even less notice of them than it does now—and that is little enough.
§ Mr. John Corrie (Bute and North Ayrshire)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the people in our constituencies who voted us into the House did so because they wanted us to do a job in Westminster? He must know, as I do, that it is physically impossible to do a job in the House and a job in Europe at the same time, and the day will come when the two jobs must be separated.
§ Mr. Evans
I reject that argument. I have one of the biggest constituencies, and I have to work hard. Although I have 100,000 electors, I have not received one criticism from my electors because I have attended institutions in Europe. I know of no other member of the European Parliament who has been criticised for that reason by his constituents.
I am not a federalist. I am an advocate for my own country. I hope that as time goes by the European countries will get closer together, but the European Parliament and European institutions must grow slowly and not be forced. If they are forced, they will collapse.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
It is a pity in a European debate to hark on legalities and concentrate on minutiae. Until the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) spoke I thought that the debate also lacked vision. In concentrating on small issues we tend to forget that the vision is to bring together the people of Europe so that they work togther for a constructive future in a world that is becoming increasingly unkind in the economic and social sense, if not in other senses. I am not sure that we have the right formula in Parliament for dealing with issues that concern our destiny in Europe. In my view, the procedures here and in Europe should be examined.
I have heard the views of honourable colleagues in the European Parliament—of which I am a member—intermixed with the views of the Westminster Parliament. One of the virtues of the dual mandate is that the national Parliament 1795 can keep in touch with the European Parliament. I take the view that it is an impossible and intolerable burden for anyone to be a member of both Parliaments for an indefinite period.
My experience is different from that expressed by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans). My electors expect me to represent them in Westminster, although the source of power is in Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg. I support direct elections as outlined in Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome. I accept that we must debate how we are to achieve that goal, and the timing.
If a member of the European Parliament represents his constituents well in Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg—I wish there was only one place and not three—he should be entitled to be re-elected at the next General Election, and not feel that he has let down his constituents in the Westminster Parliament. I support direct elections, and I accept that ultimately we should move not towards confederalism but towards a federal structure because the necessity for power in the European Parliament in Brussels is urgent.
Hon. Members complain of the plethora of regulations and papers issued by the Commission. Until Ministers control the output and until parliamentarians control Ministers—which they can do only by direct election—the Eurocrats will lead parliamentarians by the nose. But, in saying this, I in no way wish to criticise the competence and dedication of the European civil servants working in the Commission.
Behind the White Paper is the concept of the budget and the desire of Ministers to reduce expenditure. The only danger is that certain items of expenditure, if drastically reduced, destroy continuity, particularly in science, research, and technology. If the Parliament tries to restore funds to maintain that continuity in order, for instance, to ensure that the regional development fund has the power it needs, the Minister must listen. That is the tenor of the debate we have just held in the European Parliament.
I have been involved in the work of various European committees, including those concerned with energy, research and 1796 technology. Irrespective of Britain having to work within the Community, there are in addition the Paris energy conference and the Rome talks. Energy policies are the concern of all of us in Europe. The process obviously starts with oil policy and the need for the nations of Europe to work together. This is what we have been doing in committee in the European Parliament. European colleagues hoped that there would be a European hydrocarbon or energy policy. Here, we have been discussing whether North Sea oil belongs to the Shetland Islands, to Scotland or to Britain. As has been stated in the White Paper on devolution, just as coal in Yorkshire and Nottingham, where I live, is British, I hope that oil now is also British. Having said that, there should be a co-operative effort in exploiting these resources and using European skills in doing so. A number of items have been discussed, including liquid petroleum gases and the uses to which they could be put, the avoiding of flaring, and perhaps the use of power packs on the platforms to generate electricity, when it is too costly to convert into liquid petroleum gases and move them back here. This would avoid wastage.
This all comes back to the discussion in Rome yesterday about the value of North Sea oil. In the North Sea the capital cost of extraction could be 10 or 15 times that of the cost of extraction of oil in the Middle East. We know that. The cost of production could be up to that figure as well. It is, however, difficult to estimate the exact costs.
The Government have set up the British National Oil Corporation, which I have condemned as a method of dealing with this new industry. However, that is the way we are to do it. Therefore, we must ask ourselves whether we want or need to share the market for our oil. I hold the view that, because the cost of extraction is so high for us and we are in competition with the traditional OPEC countries, we need a guaranteed market. Our European friends want a guaranteed source of supply for some, if not all, of their oil. Do the Government think that we can go it alone? But we should be co-operating and co-ordinating with the Community countries, because we may fail on our own. We have been 1797 insular and isolated at a time when we want friends to help us in other directions, particular economically.
I recognise that Lord Carrington and successive Secretaries of State for Energy of both parties have said that this is our oil and that we should control the rate of depletion, because if depletion is too fast the resource will go before it need have done. If it is too slow, capital assets will deteriorate or maintenance costs will be too high. These are issues on which we must co-operate.
Again, it is very costly for one nation to go it alone in energy research, whether it be into solar systems, the transfer of energy, or the use of geothermal resources. One example is the JET—Joint European Torus—project, which involves plasma fusion. Much work has been done in Culham on this. We have been the world leaders in this. In the last committee that I attended the question was where the work should be located. I do not think that British insularity, and the line taken by our Prime Minister, will help other Ministers or Members of Parliament to ensure that this new work can come to this country. Insularity in one respect may mean that others will isolate us in different ways, and, therefore, it is a pity that the independent line has been taken at this time by the Prime Minister.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) stressed the disaster of the debate on the aircraft industry yesterday, and the nationalisation of that industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) pointed out from the Front Bench that there is a need to look at the aircraft industry as a European industry rather than as an isolated industry in this country, although we have had the greatest capacity of any EEC country.
A paper produced by the Commission, now being discussed by the committees, concerns not only the aircraft industry but the operation of the airlines. If I may criticise that paper, it is that it has dealt with a type of aircraft on which there has been co-operation, and it has not dealt with the industrial aspect, the plant, the lay-out, and the capacity to produce.
1798 There have been remarkable difficulties, and obviously we understand the case of the Lockheed Tri-Star aircraft using a Rolls-Royce engine. This is by no means the only independent line criticised, but if we look at the structure of the aerospace industry of Europe first, we realise that, working together, we can evolve a pattern that will ensure jobs in Britain and in Europe. If we work on our own and shut our eyes to the rest of Europe, we shall have no market for our skills, despite being one of the leaders in this field.
In airline operations we have debated Eurocontrol as an ideal for uniform aircraft and flight traffic in Europe, equivalent to the system in the United States of America, but accepting the difficulty that, until we have unified control for military as well as civil flights, Euro-control as a concept is futile and useless. This has been put to us by IATA in European terms. We should think of it as well in this country.
Touching briefly on transportation, we have had discussions in the Transport and Regional Affairs Committee with the Commission and with the Ministers on the issues facing us. Obviously, here we are concerned with the social recommendations, in respect of the tachometer, and the 450-kilometre driving distance limit, as well as the drivers' hours, which concern operators in this country. I hope we shall be able to find from the Ministers the extent to which we can get deferment of the introduction of the tachometer and the extent to which we can comply with the European pattern.
When we were having the debates on entering the Community there were questions of vehicle weight, axle weight, size and dimensions. We are nearing agreement, but the final compromise has not been reached. Until that compromise is reached, road haulage will not flow on a uniform pattern. That matter is on the agenda for the ministerial conference this month. It is urgent to reach a compromise. I shall be most disappointed if the Ministers have not moved towards that package.
My next point, on which I have no time to dwell in detail, concerns the operation of the Regional Fund. There has been pressure by Ministers to reduce the value of the Regional Fund. The 1799 German Government have been behind this because they are funding most of it. We in this country want the continuity to be maintained, but as parliamentarians we must ensure that our claims are put forward effectively, and with the right timing, compared to the claims of other countries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) and I and many others have seen the list. Our list has been on infrastructure grants. The other list has been in respect of factories and other schemes which will provide employment. I have asked a series of Parliamentary Questions about various areas of the country, including Ireland, and about the various claims which have been put forward, the extent to which they will bring employment and in what area of employment. In answer to a Written Question today, I have been told:It is not possible for reasons of commercial confidentiality to give details of industrial applications under the Fund and it is not desirable to publish details of other applications which are still under consideration. When decisions are taken on applications announcements will be made.I hope that we can have a list not only of European money going into a project but of national financial contributions and other outside funds. The Regional Fund is only part of the catalyst for a much bigger investment in areas where employment is required.
The ideal situation is for the Parliament of Europe to work together, if possible speaking with one voice, to ensure our survival and to forge our prosperity for the future. The leadership of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the energy question has perhaps not been an example of working together but an example which shows Britain as the odd man out. The challenge is to comply as far as we can and to work together for a European future. With a prosperous European future, a prosperous and successful future for Britain will surely follow.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
It is a privilege to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) because he happens to serve on a committee in which I have certain interests, namely, rail transport. He said 1800 that this committee had been discussing road haulage but had been unable to come to any agreement. However, he did not make any reference to rail transport, which in this country is publicly-owned. In land values alone, our railways are worth thousands of millions of pounds, quite apart from rolling stock and other assets. It is most regrettable that an hon. Member who sits on the European committee dealing with these matters should be unable to enlighten a Back-Bench Member who is vitally interested in rail and road haulage and in transport as a whole.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the committee deals with all aspects of transport policy—air, road, rail and inland waterway navigation. The shortage of time prevented my referring to them. The vital issue to be dealt with next month is that of road transport.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation, but he will agree that he did not mention the railways, which are vitally important to Europe as a whole, bearing in mind that we are awaiting from the Government a policy statement on transport and that the United Kingdom has been devoid of a Government transport policy for many years.
I would never accept the position as Chairman of the British Railways Board, because Ministers of successive Governments have interfered with the management of our rail transport system. It has never been able to operate as a commercial undertaking should. Moreover, because it belongs to the nation, in the interests of the movement not only of people but of goods, I believe that there are other aspects to be taken into consideration—for example, the environment. We talk about the dangers of the lead content in petrol, but nothing has been done to remove it. All the experts have admitted that it is a danger to the nation's health.
I wish to refer to the White Paper. Hon. Members may care to refer, for guidance, to paragraphs 55 to 58. One cannot but realise that unless we have more of these debates and more reports of the type we have heard this afternoon from my right hon. and hon. Friends, many people will be left in partial ignorance about what is taking place in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
1801 When my hon. Friends and other hon. Members return to European parliamentary business in the near future I hope that they will take back a message, because I believe that British transport lacks direction and Government support. No matter how clever the British Railways Board and its Chairman may be, it is well nigh impossible to run a viable railway transport system in any country. Yet Britain is one of the few countries which at present are cutting back their railway undertakings. The great danger is that it is much easier to close a system down than to find a body or a Government which will provide a railway undertaking which will operate in the interests of the nation as a whole.
Whilst listening to some very valuable contributions to the debate I looked up at the Strangers' Gallery and realised that there were five times as many people in that Gallery as on the Benches of both sides of the House. I admit that I was against entry into the Common Market, but I appreciate that this debate is of great value to the people of this country and to Members of Parliament. I regret that this debate has not attracted the interest of many more hon. Members than have participated.
It would be wrong to continue making any contribution to a debate such as this without congratulating those who have had the experience, which most of us have not had, of giving us what I would term a report. It has not been a very exciting report, or the type of report which we were led to expect prior to entry to the Common Market. However, I shall not reopen old sores.
The hon. Member for Hallam said that he served on the Regional Policy and Transport Committee of the European Parliament. The hon. Gentleman—for what reason I do not know, because he did not explain; it may have been because of the time allowed for speeches—failed to deal with pollution. This country is bedevilled with pollution of the environment.
During proceedings on the Local Government Bill, which created the redistribution of local government boundaries, particularly in England, we were told that larger authorities would be able to deal with domestic and industrial waste by industrial means. The cost of 1802 dealing with poisonous or toxic substances as waste was accepted as being beyond the ability of the smaller local authorities.
Local government has been settling in since it was reorganised in 1972. One of the great problems facing us—I do not know about our European partners—is the use of open tips. My constituents are very worried. People in St. Helens have spent many thousands of pound buying homes in areas where it is now proposed to develop tipping, including toxic materials, on a very wide basis.
When my right hon. and hon. Friends next serve on committees of the European Parliament, I should like them to take this message: the hon. Member for St. Helens, on behalf not only of St. Helens but of other places in this country, would like the assistance of the experts in Europe to help to develop an industrial system for the destruction of toxic and unwanted materials and for the recycling of glass and ferrous and non-ferrous metals back to industry.
A few years ago I endeavoured to help a chemical firm in St. Helens to import sulphuric acid from Belgium. To my surprise and shock I found that the sulphuric acid was contained in unsafe tankers, which were put on ships to be brought across the Channel. In one instance the fire service had to play cold water on a tanker for the whole of its journey across the Channel on a vessel. In another instance a tanker reached the deck of a vessel but was taken off because it was in such a dangerous condition that the skipper refused to accept responsibility for it.
If the European parliamentary committees are really serious about the environment and transport, there is much to be done. British transport, especially the railway system, is in need of some guidance and, if necessary, financial help. I am sure that if there is any money to be given to help a transport system such as ours, it will be more than welcome. Dick Marsh, the Chairman of British Rail, has appealed time and again for the finance promised by various Governments who have failed to deliver the goods.
We have a system that cannot possibly operate on a long-term basis. It is impossible to operate our railway system on a 1803 year-to-year basis. If we are to run a proper integrated and co-ordinated transport system, whoever the management may be, for goodness' sake let us give the management the power and the time, at least. Let them plan for 10 years ahead and then look at things again.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
I assure the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) that I myself represent a very proud railway town—Carn-forth. I keep, and certainly shall keep, a very close watch on the interests of railwaymen and on the railway system in this country in the Regional Policy and Transport Committee on which I have the honour to serve in the European Parliament.
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) with great interest. He said that the Community paid too much attention to details and did not get down to the fundamental changes which were necessary if the Community is to flourish. He went on to point out that the Community spends 70 per cent. of its budget on the common agricultural policy, and that there is little sign of any change in that.
The hon. Gentleman could not be more wrong in that regard. In its early years the Community set out to achieve an agricultural revolution which took us in Britain 150 years and caused great hardship in our countryside. The Community set out to achieve that in a fraction of the time and without the hardship that we here endured. The Community has very largely succeeded by now. It is ready now to move on from that stage to the next vital stage of raising the standard of living in the poorer regions of the Community.
I am not ashamed to admit that I accepted the invitation to join the European Parliament because I believed that this country could never achieve the prosperity needed to help our own regions, such as the North-West which I am very proud to represent, unless we were inside the Community. Just as the CAP formed the bond between the original Six, so I believe that in the next stage of the development of the Community the Regional Fund will become the cement to bind the new Community of Nine, and later more members, together.
1804 The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), referring to applications for help from the Social Fund, said that putting forward projects was a very long-drawn-out process and that before an application can even be put forward it must have the blessing of the Minister. She went on to say that there must be direct communications between the regions and the Commission and between local authorities and regional development associations in this country for them to present and argue their own case.
Hon. Members must appreciate that that is equally true—in fact, more so—of the Regional Development Fund. Governments can make mistakes. Our present Government frequently do, especially in their regional policy. The regions would feel very much happier and have much more confidence in the regional policy of the Community if they could put their projects direct to the Regional Committee, as the hon. Lady suggested in relation to applications to the Social Fund. The Regional Fund in its infancy and the way Governments deal with their share of the Fund will be a test of their good faith with the rest of the Community. Our own Commissioner, Mr. George Thomson, has said:The regional fund should be a bonus to help disadvantaged regions, over and above what would be spent on regional aids by member governments.Unfortunately, there is a grave suspicion that the United Kingdom Government will not do this. Both the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister for Planning and Local Government have put on the record in circulars that local authorities will not be allowed to embark on additional projects because of the availability of additional funds from the EEC Regional Fund. But the Fund was not intended to bail out ailing national Budgets. It was intended to be of direct assistance to our regions, particularly at this time of very high unemployment.
In my own constituency, unemployment this month has risen to the horrifying figure of 7.4 per cent., with the even more horrifying statistic that there are 55 people for every vacancy. Every hon. Member who represents a constituency in the regions should urge the Government to keep to the spirit of the Regional Fund and not allow others to misuse our share. If this is done, our 1805 regions can at least begin to enjoy a standard of living which more fortunate areas have long taken for granted.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
This has been one of the strangest debates I have taken part in for a very long time. We are dealing with six months of Community activity at a time when the European Council has just met, various statements have been made by Prime Ministers and Presidents and Press conferences have been held at Heathrow Airport. We have been denied the benefit of hearing exactly what happened at the Rome summit meeting from either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary, yet we are holding a debate on these very issues. I am sorry that the Minister of State refused to give us any information about what happened at the conference. In the past six months the European Parliament has been debating the issues which have led up to what took place in Rome. A lot of the work we have been doing has been concerned with the issues raised in the summit. If we had not been discussing them, the summit[...] would not have taken place on these problems and issues.
I agree with the hon. Members on both sides who have said that they hope this will not happen again. It was a mistake for neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Prime Minister to make a statement today. Alternatively, the debate could have been postponed until tomorrow. Those who arrange the business of the House knew when the conference would be finished and when this debate was to be held. Rearranging the business would not have required much ingenuity. Enough has been made of this point in the debate, but I hope that a similar situation never happens again.
Of the 20 speakers in the debate, 12 have been members of the European Parliament. That shows the vast amount of interest being taken by other hon. Members who are always talking about wanting to know more of what is going on in Europe. It is strange that when the opportunity is offered to them, it is not taken up to the extent that one would have expected.
The main themes of this debate have been clear, to the extent that the debate 1806 has lent itself to themes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) said, it has been a diffused debate. The principal issue has concerned direct elections. At one point I closed my eyes and thought that I was back in the House in the pre-referendum period. Some of the speeches had a most familiar ring, and I thought that we were about to fight all the old battles once again.
We are now, thank goodness, in the Community. Of course, that is not irreversible. This House could take a decision to change that situation, but to all intents and purposes we are in the Community to stay.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ban-bury (Mr. Marten) and the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) have been talking about the mandatory position of direct elections. As I understand it, it is mandatory under Article 138 for the Assembly to draw up proposals for direct elections on the basis of universal suffrage, and for the Council, acting unanimously, to lay down appropriate provisions and to recommend them to member States. The European Parliament has done that. The decision was taken there by an overwhelming majority in January, and it is now for the Council to fulfil its obligation.
I gather from statements in the Press and from what I have heard from the Prime Minister on the radio that the right hon. Gentleman states that there will be no hindrance from this country. The Danes seemed to be saying the same thing last week when I met the Danish Prime Minister, so it seems that Foreign Ministers will be given the go-ahead to fulfil their part and to make proposals to their various national Parliaments.
The national Parliaments will have the right to reject what has been recommended, but there is a basic principle here. It is that when we signed the treaty and when we had the referendum result we accepted Article 138(3). We said that we agreed in principle to accept that article. The provision is not mandatory; the House can throw out the proposal. But what is the point of signing a treaty which contains an article clearly stating that proposals will be put to the House of Commons for direct elections if we 1807 have no intention of accepting that article and using our best endeavours to do so.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) has written to me explaining that he is unable to be here for the winding-up speeches, and I am sorry that he is absent. He suggested that my party had been unclear about whether it supports direct elections. I must tell him that of course we do support them. The details, of course, must be worked out, but that will be taken care of in the proposals by the Council of Ministers. However, let me assure him that in principle we accept that there will be direct elections to the European Parliament.
I thought that this was no longer an issue of controversy across the Floor of the House. The controversy will arise when the Government, whichever party forms it, put a proposal before the House. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North will trot out all the arguments we have heard from him over the past five or 10 years, and that is when the controversy will begin.
A second main theme has emerged. It concerns foreign policy. There is no doubt that the White Paper shows that progress has been made, albeit not very great. If we put on one side the Helsinki conference, at which the Community spoke with one voice, I believe that we have made progress in foreign affairs. For instance, we have stopped the rather ludicrous procedure of having the Davignon Committee procedure whereby Foreign Ministers sat down, then got up, went out of the room, took off those particular hats, went in again and sat as the Council of Ministers.
Progress has been made on co-operation in foreign affairs. I welcome what has been said by hon. Members about the combined approach to deal with the difficult situation in Portugal and how the Community has definitely helped to support the democratic forces within Portugal and is helping to stabilise the situation there. We sincerely hope that this support will continue.
The Minister of State referred to Greece, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling). The right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that Greece would 1808 join the Community as soon as it was ready. Indeed, an association agreement was signed way back in the 1960s stating that Greece could be a member of the Community when it is ready. I hope that the next step will be taken soon, and that there will be a recommendation from the Commission that negotiations should commence with Greece for the purpose of working out the transitional and final terms for it to become a member. Greece's agriculture and industrial base need to be strengthened during this transitional period so that it does not find it too difficult to accede to the full provisions and can face the full blast of Community membership.
The House should not forget that there is another country which is an associated State under the same kind of agreement as Greece; namely, Turkey. There are problems connected with Turkey's membership—as there are with that of Greece—in relation to the Cyprus situation. This is not the moment to go into those problems in detail. Turkey has an association agreement with the Community on exactly the same lines as Greece. We must bear in mind Turkey's point of view and interests when the Foreign Ministers of the Community negotiate the terms of final membership with Greece. We must ensure that Turkey's interests are safeguarded and the door is left open for her to join.
The Minister of State mentioned the powers of the European Parliament and the budgetary aspects, which are referred to in the White Paper. I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman said that when the Council of Ministers met to deal with budgetary questions it would be with what the European Parliament has, in point of fact, asked to be put back into the budget—that is, just over 360 million units of account—and that a proportion of what the European Parliament has been asking for the social programme will indeed be put back by the Council, in conformity with the original proposal of the Commission.
There are many more issues in relation to the budget that I should like to underline, but many Members have spoken of the powers of the Parliament and, if there is a directly elected Parliament, what it will do and what will happen there. One of the areas in which gradually—I underline that word—the 1809 European Parliament is increasing its ability to control events is through its control of the budget. There is an enormously long way to go. A mere 15 per cent. is a small proportion of what we can control and we can put back even less after the Council has decided to cut the budget. It is about 70 million units of account this year compared with the total budget of many thousands of units of account. Gradually, however, as our own resources and our control over them increase within the Community, so will the European Parliament have greater control over Community expenditure for social, regional, agricultural and other purposes.
There is a continuing argument about whether we should give more power to the Parliament, but I hope that progress here will come gradually and naturally as the Parliament develops its various institutions and methods of financial control. One of the issues raised in the White Paper is the setting up of a mechanism for the control of expenditure. The Prime Minister has said several times recently that he would like to see a system equivalent to that which we have here, a Public Accounts Committee system, established as a European Committee of Parliament to scrutinise expenditure.
The establishment of a court of audit will be part of that procedure. If one is to have a PAC system, one must have the necessary tools for the purpose, and a court of audit is a sine qua non if we are to have a committee of that kind examining expenditure. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, with his colleagues in the Council of Ministers, will do all he can to bring this idea forward as soon as possible even though it may entail a small increase in expenditure during the coming year, 1976.
I have no time to go deeply into the question whether the European Parliament and the Community itself should develop along federal or confederal lines. That is not the purpose of our debate today. But what is important—this arises from what was said by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—is that we do not want an over-centralised unitary form of administration in the EEC. No one wants that, not even the most ardent federalist or those who, like myself, take a rather more pragmatic view and believe that change will come 1810 naturally with the development of the European Parliament and the financial powers of the Community as my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) outlined.
In his opening speech my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet spoke about harmonisation, and many hon. Members have taken that matter up. One of the many achievements for which we in the Conservative Group at the European Parliament can claim a certain credit is that after we first joined the Parliament back in 1973, through persistent harrying of the Commissioners and putting our case to them, we succeeded in getting the Commissioner in charge of that policy area to make a statement that harmonisation would never be done purely for harmonisation's sake and would happen only when it was essential to improve or to enable conditions of fair trading and fair competition to exist within the European Community.
If right hon. and hon. Members would look at the record of what has taken place during the six months covered by the White Paper, or even the year before that, they will see that there has been a great reduction in legislation and directives dealing purely with esoteric subjects for harmonisation.
However, there still remain certain problems, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) gave one example, the question of the lead content of petrol. This is an important issue. I firmly believe that what was proposed was wrong. There is not much danger in the level of lead content in petrol which we have in the United Kingdom, and I know of no scientific evidence to prove that there is. Nevertheless, this was a harmonisation proposal from the Commission which would have had a serious effect, as my hon. Friend pointed out, on the whole economy of our petrol industry and would quite unnecessarily have increased costs. I was astonished to find Labour Members voting for that harmonisation in the European Parliament. If the European Parliament had accepted it and it had gone through to the Council of Ministers it would have entailed a considerable increase in costs. Luckily, Parliament rejected it. In principle, the European Parliament and the Commission are not embarking 1811 on a great deal of unnecessary legislation in that direction. The right area in which a great deal more should be done, and will be done, is that of pollution. It is right to say that some forms of pollution are common to all States and to all areas. In those instances it is right that there should be a general level of harmonisation legislation to deal with pollution, be it on the land, in the sea or in the air. However, in many cases what is good for the Mediterranean area is not necessarily required for the various estuarial waters around the United Kingdom. It is not sensible to try to find legislation to deal with the whole complex.
One of the jobs which we have been trying to do in the European Parliament is to take great care to ensure that unnecessary harmonisation legislation is resisted. We try to see that it is introduced only for specific areas where, for example, pollution control should take place, but there is the argument that where we are contiguous, and there are many such areas, there pollution legislation should be introduced on a European basis.
The hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) spoke about the safety and health of workers and consumers. In that context it is right that there should be European legislation on a Community basis.
Finally, I deal with what we have been doing in the European Parliament and in Europe generally concerning overseas territories, including the third countries. One of the successes which took place just before the period covered by the White Paper was the signing of the Lomé Agreement. As the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) said, the 46 Lomé Agreement countries have had their preliminary meeting in Luxembourg. I had the honour of being present at that meeting for a short period last week. It was an extremely interesting development, and it should be recognised that the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) played a great part in bringing about the agreement. It is only fair to give praise where praise is due.
The Lomé Agreement will undoubtedly do a great deal to improve relationships between the Community and the 46 countries. The gibe which has so often been heard over the past few years is that 1812 the Community is an inward-looking body. By the Lomé Agreement the Community has proved that suggestion not to be true. There is nothing on which the Community seems to spend more time than attempting to find ways and means of improving its trading positions and relationships with third countries.
There is a tremendous movement in co-ordinating and developing trading relationships with the Mediterranean countries. New agreements are coming forward all the time. That also applies to South-East Asia. I am glad that reference has been made to the problems which exist in giving food aid to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Community is not in a position to give a vast amount of food aid to those countries. Indeed, I do not think that they want aid in the form of food. I think it would be better if some form of agreement along the lines of the Lomé Agreement could be negotiated for South-East Asia, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In conclusion, I come back to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). He was disappointed that the Community was not making great progress and that the Government were not taking initiatives. That is true. Those of us who work in the European Parliament know that there has been steady, slow grinding work which never seems to stop and the work load never gets lighter. There has not been the galvanic advance that we expected, even in these grim economic days, from Her Majesty's Government, the Minister of State and his right hon. Friend once the referendum was over and we were firmly within the Community.
After this six months of regaining their breath and their powers of imagination, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his Government during 1976 will help to revitalise the EEC. What one hears from one's colleagues of other countries in the European Parliament and the Community institutions is true. We are the ones who have been dragging our feet and who have put up obstacles, problems and difficulties which it has taken endless man-hours to solve, as in Rome this week.
I hope that this kind of performance will cease and that the Government and the right hon. Gentleman will do everything they can to further Community 1813 ideals—for which the right hon. Gentleman spoke so bravely during the referendum campaign—and to see that the United Kingdom takes a lead in building a unity of the European countries so that the Community is a force for good in the world in the years to come.
§ Mr. Spearing
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for intervening at this stage, because we are all waiting with great interest to hear what my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) has to say. When the Minister of State said that there would not be a second Government speaker and expressed the hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham would catch your eye, I assumed that he would reply to the debate but would give up perhaps half his time to his right hon. Friend. As we are considering a Government White Paper, is it not right that, after listening to the views of the House, the Government should respond to what has been said in the time-honoured tradition of accountability to the House? I therefore make what I hope is an appropriate protest.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
We listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins). I am sure that he will not misunderstand me when I say that we all regret that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) is not with us, and hope that before long he will resume his work, both here and in the various places where European parliamentary work is done.
If we look at the debate as an attempt to strike a balance sheet on the past six months, I am not sure that we shall all take quite so gloomy a view as did the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). It is true, as he said, that the Community is not making much progress on industrial policy. In some respects it does not seem to be aware of the importance of the issues involved. It is symptomatic that among the various committees of the European Parliament no 1814 committee is dedicated specifically to industry. There is a gap there.
It is also true that only a little progress has been made on the stocktaking of the common agricultural policy, although the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) fairly said that that policy was intended to carry through an agricultural revolution and, in the end, to reduce the number of people employed in agriculture and increase the efficiency of the agricultural processes. There is no doubt at all that it has made progress. It has cost a good deal on the way, and I think that Europe has now reached a time when the costliness of the agriculture programme has to be very severely examined.
Against these criticisms it is also fair to say—nobody has disputed this—that in the last six months the Community has shown an increasing capacity to use its political influence. There is not much doubt that the great resources of the Community, standing ready to help a democratic Government in Portugal, had a significant influence on events there. I think it is possible—although here one ventures into prophecy—that a similar development will occur, if things go well, with Spain. I believe that in both countries of the Iberian peninsula a number of people have for years deeply regretted the estrangement of these two countries from the family of European nations. If it can be made clear that the price of their entry into that family is the firm establishment of democratic institutions, it will be an advantage to Europe as a whole.
There is a credit balance also in the Community's increasingly generous and imaginative approach towards the problems of the developing world. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), whose speech I was not able to hear, described her experience of this. We in Britain should be particularly proud of this approach, because so many of the countries concerned are linked with us in the Commonwealth. Like others, I felt anxiety that entry into the Community might estrange us from the Commonwealth. In view of the many points at which the Commonwealth countries and the Community are linked, we should have found ourselves further removed from contact with the Commonwealth if we had remained outside the Community. [Interruption.] I did not 1815 expect that remark to carry universal agreement. I suggest, however, that those of my hon. Friends who do not agree might at least think the matter over. I have listened patiently to many things with which I did not agree in this debate, and I have been thinking them over.
I do not propose to go on summing up. One of the advantages of replying to a debate when not on the Government Front Bench is that one is not under an obligation to summarise all the speeches. The way to make a successful reply from the Government Front Bench is to say, "The hon. Member for so-and-so made a most valuable point and my hon. Friend the Member for so-and-so made a very interesting point." It is not necessary to answer the points; one simply needs to show that one has noticed them. This goes down extremely well. But it is not necessary for me to waste the time of the House in that exercise. The House will expect me, in view of the position that I have the honour to hold, to comment mainly on the work of the European Parliament and the way in which it relates to the events of the last six months. In commenting on the European Parliament I should first raise the question of direct elections.
§ Mr. Reid
Before the right hon. Gentleman deals with that point, will he comment on the points raised by the hon. Members for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and myself, about Scottish and Welsh representations in terms of the institutions of the Community, and say whether separation has any meaning within the European Economic Community?
§ Mr. Stewart
I was going to talk about the European Parliament. If I followed the hon. Gentleman's speech correctly, he was particularly concerned with the way in which Scotland could make her voice heard, as Scotland, in the European Parliament and the other organs of the Community. He will forgive me if I do not give him a full reply on that question, for what it involves is the question whether Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. I must record my own opinion that it would be to the advantage of both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom if Scotland were to remain part of the United Kingdom. I 1816 think that certain consequences follow from that in relation to the EEC.
If one talks of the European Parliament one must say something on the question of direct election. There has been argument as to how far we can be regarded as committed on this. It is quite clear, from Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome, that no nation is bound to accept any plan that comes along for direct elections, or to have a plan imposed upon it by majority vote. But I think it is also clear that any Government which entered the Community, having signed the Treaty of Accession and read Article 138, should not at the same time have in its mind a private resolve to oppose any scheme for direct election. A Government behaving like that would not be behaving in a straightforward manner. In common sense and honesty, quite plainly, Governments are required, in good faith, to try to make the idea of direct elections work.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Will my right hon. Friend accept that the problem is not quite that, but that there is also a commitment to find a common method of election, which is a very different problem for Great Britain?
§ Mr. Stewart
I quite agree, and on that point we are obviously not obliged to take any scheme that comes along; but we are under an obligation to try, in good faith, to make the idea work. If I may say so, my hon. Friend and I are particularly committed, because the Government of which we were both members in 1969 were party to the Anglo-Italian declaration affirming Britain's faith in direct elections.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I record the fact that I voted against my own Government's obligation. Therefore, my commitment is perhaps not as strong as that of my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Stewart
I think we might remember what happened in 1969, when the last Labour Government were in power. The reason why, in practice, I believe that we should go ahead with direct elections is that it is difficult for any Member, however conscientious, to fulfil the dual mandate now. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) said. It is not impossible, but it is very difficult. I think that the Parliament will grow, in terms 1817 of the scope of its work, and that will make it increasingly difficult to fulfil the dual mandate properly, and particularly to fulfil it for any length of time. Our delegations to the European Parliament are constantly having to be changed because people feel that they cannot be separated from Westminster for too long. To that extent, our delegates will never play a really leading part in the European Parliament. These are practical considerations in favour of our pursuing the object of direct elections.
As to the nature of the European Parliament, any hon. Member going to it from this Parliament and measuring it against this Parliament will no doubt experience a sense of disappointment. This Parliament, after all, is sovereign, pragmatic, and stationary at Westminster. The European Parliament is subordinate, pioneering and nomadic, and one becomes acutely aware of this as the months go on. I say that it is subordinate: one could fairly say that Europe has at the moment, in effect, a two-chamber legislature—the Council of Ministers and the Assembly—in which the Council of Ministers is in every conceivable meaning of the word the Upper House. Indeed, it recalls to some extent what I believe was the position of the Commons in the very early history of the English Parliament, when a Bill was a kind of humble petition from the Commons to the great Lords of Parliament and the Crown, the Commons hoping to get something through. However, we notice over the years what has happened to the Commons House of Parliament.
Despite its subordinate nature, the Assembly possesses what might be described as certain nuclear weapons. However, they are of such a horrific nature that it is extremely difficult to use them. It can, if it goes through the proper procedures, sack the entire Commission. Of course, there is nothing to prevent the Governments reappointing the same Commission. However, I suppose that the Parliament could do it again. A little more realistically, it can reject the entire budget. Although these powers sound too sweeping and too clumsy to be used, they should not be entirely ignored.
The tone of the recent budget debate in the European Parliament was striking. In many parts of the House there was the angry reiteration, "If we get this sort of 1818 thing from the Council again, we shall reject the budget." It was not done this time. However, I do not regard it as in any degree impossible. If again, we were presented with a budget in which expenditure on the agricultural policy was regarded as sacrosanct, where all the cuts had to fall on other forms of expenditure, and where they had been slapped on in an extremely disproportionate and haphazard fashion. I do not rule out the possibility of the Parliament rejecting the budget. That would oblige both the Commission and the Council to think again.
There are the avenues towards greater powers for the Parliament suggested in the Vedel Report, which was made some lime ago. It was suggested that it should be possible increasingly to give to the Parliament powers of co-decision on certain matters which are at present determined solely by the Council, and to give the Parliament increasing power over the allocation of expenditure on what are known as the "non-obligatory functions"
I think that it is towards the development of its power in that direction that the Parliament should concentrate its mind. One of its weaknesses at the moment is that it can so easily be left off to discuss this, that and the other immediate topics of the day, instead of asking itself what is the relation between the time that it will spend on that topic and the amount of power that will come out of it.
That is another reason why I am inclined to believe in direct elections. There will be a power struggle. I doubt whether people who can give it only part of their time can engage in what may be a long tactical struggle with the Council and the Commission to increase the Assembly's powers.
That brings me to my next point about the nature of the Parliament. I have described what I mean by calling it a subordinate body. It is also a developing body. By contrast with this House, which, over a long period, has developed highly articulated procedural methods which, on the whole, we adapt very skilfully to meet new needs as they arise, the European Parliament is still very much feeling its way. After all, in its full life it is only 17 years old, and the events of the past two years have been very much a new chapter in its existence.
1819 I remember how one of my hon. Friends once wished to raise a point in a debate, and there was considerable doubt whether he would be in order in doing so. It took the occupant of the Chair rather longer to decide whether he was in order than it would have taken my hon. Friend to make his point in the first place. That is because there is not the same authority in the Chair, or even, sometimes, the same clarity about the rules of procedure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) made a most interesting and significant speech. It occurred to me that many of the points he was making could, with advantage, be said in the European Parliament and their implications fully discussed. The trouble is that the amount of time available to the Parliament for that type of reflection on its problems is limited because, as my hon. Friend says, we have to spend so much time on the minutae of business. It clearly means that the Parliament must get to work on reforming its procedures. Indeed, Labour Party delegates are glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) is the Chairman of the recently appointed Committee on Procedures.
I have described the Parliament as a subordinate and developing body, but it is also a partisan body. Indeed, I regard that as a very good and necessary thing. It is organised on party lines.
Several hon. Members have deplored the thin attendance tonight. We all know the reason for that. It is because there is not a vote either on this business or on any of the subsequent business. I am not suggesting that there should be a vote. I think that we should approach European politics in the spirit not that it would be almost indecent to have partisan votes about them, but that they are as much the subject of party controversy as anything else. For example, in the European Parliament my hon. Friends and I, together with our colleagues in the Socialist Group, secured the defeat of a particular report emanating from the President's right in that Chamber, or that quarter of the House. The report concerned the attitude of the Community towards competition. The point we were making was that the passages in the 1820 Treaty of Rome and elsewhere about freedom of competition are not to be interpreted as a charter for unlimited free enterprise. They are a prohibition in terms of purely nationalistic restrictions on trade. They do not inhibit public ownership or social actions by Governments. That type of consideration will be increasingly important.
The Community deals—I hope that in time it will deal more fully—with such matters as health and safety at work, the rights of workers to participate in industry and the attitudes which the public authorities should take towards multi national companies. These are strong controversial matters—controversial between parties and controversial between different class interests. In my view is is good that the European Parliament is organised on partisan lines, because it will help to give vitality to direct elections to the European Parliament.
I have already described the Parliament as subordinate, nomadic, developing and partisan. The final adjective that I would apply to it is "prophetic" or "pioneering". For example, the action taken first by the Commission and later the Ministers over the negotiations that were taking place with Spain was preceded by a debate in the Parliament. It is extremely likely that that debate influenced the action of the Commission and the Ministers.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us were very disturbed by reports, emanating from Brussels between the time of the debate and the actual engagement with the Spanish authorities, which suggested that the Commission's diplomatic services, or whatever they are, were disheartened by the attitude taken by the European Parliament?
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not mind whether they were disheartened or not. I am glad that we passed what I think was the right resolution in the European Parliament and that the Commission subsequently took what I regard as the right action.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that some of us believe that, in practice, the wording of the resolution condemned those men to death?
§ Mr. Stewart
That is a view which many of us do not share. I was referring to the pronouncement by the Parliament on the continuing negotiations with Spain. The Parliament was performing a pioneering function, and I think that it can continue to do that.
During the debate hon. Members have mentioned a number of problems which the Community ought to tackle, but so far it has scratched only the surface.
§ Mr. Dykes
I apologise for interrupting and asking the right hon. Gentleman to go back a little. I thought that he was continuing with the same point. He was clearly proud of the action that was taken on the competition policy within the larger group of which he is a member. Will he explain why Socialists in the Committee stage, which was a thorough preliminary discussion of the same policy, did not oppose it then?
§ Mr. Stewart
By the time it came to the later stage the Socialist group was somewhat enlarged, and perhaps inspired. Anyhow, I am sure that we took the right line. We ought not to deplore partisan conflict.
I am glad, too, that we stuck out over Portugal and insisted that the Community should help as soon as possible and not wait, as some suggested, until next February when, possibly, the next elections would have been held. Again, we were able to press home a partisan point usefully. I describe that as a pioneering function.
There are several problems which hon. Members have mentioned of which the Community has so far scratched only the surface. Frequently a debate in the Parliament will bring out the critical issues and will possibly serve the kind of purpose that a debate on a Green Paper serves here, assuming that the Government are genuinely paying attention to it. 1822 That is a function which the Parliament can increasingly perform.
I believe that all the limitations, frustrations and in spite of laborious business of the European Parliament, participation by this country is worth while. In that I think that I carry with me those of my hon. Friends who have participated in its work.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I record that it is extraordinarily unusual for a debate of this importance to take place with no member of the Foreign Office staff being present in the Official Box throughout?
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report on Developments in the European Communities, April-October 1975 (Command Paper No. 6349)